MADISON — Nothing was going to stop the ECA Stars from reaching the mountain top on Saturday.
Not a waved off goal, not a shot that banged off both posts and out and not a hard collision on the boards that knocked the wind out of Ms. Hockey recipient Abigail Stow.
This was their year, and they kept fighting.
Ultimately, the Stars reached the summit.
They broke through for two goals in the third period to fend off a hard-working Cap City Cougars team 3-1 in the WIAA girls hockey state championship game at Alliant Energy Center.
For the first time, the Eau Claire area is the capital of the state’s girls hockey scene.
“It feels so good,” senior co-captain Brooklynn Arbs said. “We’ve been working hard for this all season, all year. Nothing feels better than this right now.”
The win capped off a remarkable four-year turnaround. When Arbs and Stow — the lone seniors on the roster — were freshmen, they had all of six wins. In the final game of their prep careers, they both skated around the Alliant Energy Center ice with their teammates, clutching the state championship trophy like their lives depended on it.
“The past four years, we’ve had our down moments, obviously, taken some big Ls,” Stow said. “But this is amazing. I didn’t see this coming four years ago, but we knew we could do it. Just to be here and to win it, it’s an amazing feeling and I can’t describe it.”
The Cougars, a co-op hosted by Sun Prairie, made the Stars earn their long-awaited moment.
Despite outshooting them 27-10 in the contest, it wasn’t until the third period when the Stars broke a 1-all tie.
They were so close all game as they fired pucks on goalie Taylor Thornton and possessed the puck in the offensive zone for most of the afternoon.
It was an Ava Kison rebound goal that got them on the board in the first period, only to be answered by a Zephryn Jager short-handed tally.
They got a gritty goal again. It was a rebound tally that proved the game-winner in the state title game.
At 5 minutes, 37 seconds of the third, Lauren Carmody put a shot on net. The puck hit off Thornton and found itself right on Stow’s stick.
You know the rest.
And for good measure, Kison converted a give-and-go with Stow at 11:30 to seal it.
“We just kept putting pucks on the net, and we just knew if we kept doing that, eventually they’d go in,” Kison said.
The Stars had chances in the second. First off, Stow had a rebound goal waved off when the referee thought the puck was frozen and blew the play dead. Moments later, Ms. Hockey fired a wrist shot from the right circle that rattled off both posts.
And it was freshman goalie Naomi Stow who made a breakaway save in the second to keep it at 1-all and give her sister and the offense a chance to score.
Abigail Stow went crashing into the boards after getting her skate caught up with a Cougar on the rush. She stayed down for a minute or two, but she got back up and didn’t miss a shift. It was fitting she was a part of both goals in the final 17 minutes.
“The second period today, we hit some pipes, battled through it and we were able to come out hard and get a couple of goals in the third,” ECA Stars coach Tom Bernhardt said.
After taking the lead in the third, the Stars kept the puck out of their zone by chipping it out against the boards and winning defensive faceoffs.
And then it was just the wait for that final buzzer.
It finally came. The Stars capped off their journey with a 26-3 record and a gold trophy.
They never lost sight of their goal, even after a pair of late-season losses to the St. Croix Valley Fusion and Central Wisconsin Storm, who they beat in Friday’s semifinals.
“After we lost to Fusion, we kind of sat down and said enough is enough,” Stow said. “Yeah we took another loss to the Storm, but but we got here we said we didn’t beat Hudson and the Fusion in the playoffs for nothing. And we didn’t come here for one game. We came here for two, and we came here to win it all.”
They did just that. Get ready, Hobbs Ice Center. There’s another banner coming for your walls.