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Irondale girls hockey gearing up for the post-season
With only five teams left in the North Suburban Conference this season, the Irondale High School girls hockey team had plenty of room on its schedule for non-conference games. The Knights ended up with some challenging contests outside of league play and they’re hoping that hard work pays off when the playoffs begin next month.
The regular season is down to just two weeks left and the Knights are using their final games to get into post-season mode.
“The girls are hungry,” said Irondale head coach Tom Rodefeld. “I don’t know what that’s going to end up being but the fact that they’re not happy where they’re at right now and they want to add more wrinkles, do more things, bodes well potentially.”
The Knights were a surprise team last year when they won the Section 5AA championship as the sixth seed. This year’s team isn’t flying under the radar quite as much. In last week’s Class AA state rankings by Let’s Play Hockey, Irondale was 10th.
Irondale beat Totino-Grace and St. Louis Park last week to run its overall record to 16-5. The five losses have all come against ranked teams (Wayzata, Hopkins and Benilde-St. Margaret’s in Class AA and Blake and Totino-Grace in Class A). The three Class AA teams Irondale has lost to were all ranked in the top four last week.
The loss to Totino-Grace at the beginning of December was the beginning of a new way of looking at this final season in the North Suburban Conference.
“We talked today before the game and we said Totino is a great team but tonight your competition’s not Totino,” Rodefeld said following Irondale’s 5-0 win over the Eagles last week. “It’s yourself. How good can this team become in the last three weeks? That’s kind of been our battle cry since Totino beat us in December.”
In the return engagement with Totino last week, Irondale made sure there would be no repeat of what happened in the first meeting. Seniors Samanatha Donovan and Alex Toupal scored twice each in the first period as the Knights bombarded Eagles goaltender Logan Knip with 15 shots.
Toupal completed the pure hat trick with a second-period tally and after that Irondale put it on cruise control. The Knights’ Anna Pate needed to make only 12 saves to pick up her fifth shutout of the season.
“A month ago we were unable to finish a game against them,” said Rodefeld. “Tonight we were able to play three periods against them.”
Donovan and Toupal are having dominating seasons. Donovan, playing her sixth season of varsity hockey before taking her talents to Brown University of the Ivy League next season, leads the team in goals and assists and is in the top 10 in the state in both categories. Toupal is second on the team in both goals and assists.
With the likes of Donovan and Toupal leading the offense, it’s not too much of a surprise that Irondale is performing the way it is. Rodefeld said it took a while for the team to buy into the notion that it could be this successful.
“I think the holiday tournament is where our girls started believing in themselves,” Rodefeld said. “With Sam Donovan, Alex Toupal, some of the other veterans, they knew they would be good this year but I don’t know if they believed they could be this good or as good as they’re going to be.”
Over the holiday break, Irondale participated in the always-tough Edina tournament and knocked off the fifth-ranked Hornets and Warroad, which is ranked seventh in Class A, before losing a one-goal game to top-ranked Hopkins in the championship game.
“That holiday tournament, there was no place hide; you were going to play good teams,” said Rodefeld. “They stepped up to that challenge and we were so very proud of them.”
Since that tournament, Irondale is 5-1 with the only blemish being a loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
Remaining games on the schedule for Irondale are against Centennial, which is a section opponent; Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village, a conference foe; Achiever Academy, a top-five team in Class A; and a return shot at Benilde.
After that, Irondale sets about the task of defending its section title from a year ago. Blaine (16-3-2) and Mounds View (12-6-3) appear to be the Knights’ stiffest competition.
The Mustangs maintained their hold on first place in the Suburban East Conference standings with a pair of victories last week. Mounds View is the defending SEC champion and looking to make it back-to-back titles.
Mounds View enters the final two weeks of the regular season holding a three-point lead over second-place Cretin-Derham Hall and a four-point cushion over Stillwater. The Mustangs have played one more conference game than Cretin and Stillwater.
Cretin and Stillwater are the only SEC teams to have beaten the Mustangs this season. The other seven teams in the conference have been mathematically eliminated from the title race.
Mounds View controls its own destiny with three games to play. If they win out, the Mustangs will win the conference championship outright while two wins and a tie assure them of no worse than a share of the title.
The Mustangs close out the conference season with games against East Ridge, Hastings and White Bear Lake. Mounds View beat East Ridge and Hastings the first time through the schedule and skated to an overtime tie against White Bear.
Even though the White Bear is in eighth place in the standings, it always manages to give Mounds View fits. The Bears wound up in ninth place in the SEC last year but were responsible for Mounds View’s only conference loss and also tied the Mustangs.
Prior to embarking on the final leg of the conference schedule, Mounds View faces possibly its toughest opponent of the season when third-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s pays a visit to the Super Rink on Tuesday. The Red Knights enter the game riding a 13-game winning streak and have lost just once all season.
Mounds View returns to Suburban East Conference play with a Saturday afternoon home game against a physical East Ridge team that dumped Roseville in overtime last Friday. The Raptors are coached by former Minnesota Wild player Wes Walz and its roster includes Walz’ daughter Jaedyn and Braeden Yeo, the daughter of current Wild head coach Mike Yeo.
The Mustangs maintained their hold on first place by beating Forest Lake and Woodbury last week. Mounds View edged the Rangers 2-0 on second-period goals by Cristi Oliver and Sydney Brodt.
Brodt’s goal came shorthanded during a 5-on-3 Forest Lake power play.
Mary Dingman made 17 saves to record the shutout in net for the Mustangs.
Mounds View followed up the Forest Lake victory with an 8-2 pasting of Woodbury on Saturday. Nine different Mustangs recorded a point and Brodt led the way with five (two goals, three assists). Bella Sutton (three assists), Bailey Thompson (two goals, one assist) and Kristen Cash (one goal, two assists) added three points each while Emmy Michaelson and Sara Moen had two points apiece.
Paige Kittelson made 16 saves to record the victory.
Brian Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.
North Suburban Conference girls hockey standings (Through Jan. 19)
|St. Louis Park||0-4||3-17-1||0|
Suburban East Conference girls hockey standings (Through Jan. 19)
|White Bear Lake||2-8-3||7-10-3||7|