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North Shore 12U gets third at state

Captains of the 12U North Shore Storm girls’ hockey team, Jessie Ketola and Maureen Dwyer, hoist the trophy while fellow captain Gracie Komarek waves the North Shore flag. The girls placed third in the state tournament last week. Photo by Michelle Ketola.1 / 3
The North Shore girls salute their fans and wave the North Shore flag after winning the 3rd place game at the state tournament last weekend. Photo by Michelle Ketola.2 / 3
12U girls’ coaches Jeff Dwyer, Steve Graden and Casey Komarek proudly display their reward for a year of hard work. Photo by Michelle Ketola.3 / 3

From Michelle Ketola

Silver Bay

Last year, 17 young girls from Two Harbors and Silver Bay combined forces to become the North Shore Storm hockey team. Only eight of the 17 girls had ever played hockey. On top of that, the oldest girls eligible to play 12U hockey had been moved up to the high school team to ensure strong enough numbers to support a junior varsity program. The team started the season with a series of losses, ending with a 17-0 record. Their final district playoff game was a 3-4 loss to Cloquet, which to these girls was a victory. They had come a long way. Meanwhile, they had formed friendships, bonded as a team and learned to never give up.

This year, just their second year as a team, they had more wins in their first five games than they had in the entire previous season. They had some ups and downs and some hard fought battles against some tough local rivals like Moose Lake and Hibbing. Nothing was taken for granted but they trusted each other and worked as a team with their coaches reminding them regularly to play hard, compete and most of all, have fun.

The end of the regular season looked a little different this year. The Storm’s record was 29-9-1 with 176 goals scored and only 71 goals scored against them. They secured both district and regional championships and found themselves on the road to the state tournament.

The two small town communities came together in a big way to support these girls. Local businesses, family and friends, their schools and other teams in the associations all lent their encouragement and support. An email of support was sent to the girls from a local business owner and proud uncle of one of the girls. The excerpts below show the flavor and depth of the encouragement the girls received from their communities.

“I would like to give one last shout out to those North Shore Storm U12B girls heading down to state today! Get on down there and start layin’ down the smack! Remember, you’re from the North Shore. Those teams south of the T.H. border are about as much threat to you as a soggy pancake! When it’s 40-below outside you don’t slink into the Café de Pattycake and slurp on an almond flavored mocha mocha with just a hint of nutmeg. No, you girls are lounging on top of a 20-foot snowbank in your swimsuits askin’ your buds to please pass you the Coppertone! And you may want to send a courtesy memo to Maple Grove or Walnut Grove, whatever Grove you’re playing in, to have Charles put the sheep in the barn and tuck little Laura Ingalls in early cuz they’re in the direct path of a North Shore Storm!”

Extended families traveled from as far as Michigan and Nebraska to be there to cheer the girls on while others who could not be there rooted for the girls and anxiously awaited the play-by-play via texting and Facebook. When the girls faced Eagan at the puck-drop on Friday, the crowd was top-heavy with black and white and North Shore Storm fans who were not afraid to stand up and make some noise. The Storm battled back from two goals behind twice to secure a victory of 5-4 and the comfort of knowing they could go home with no less than fourth place.

On Saturday the girls fought hard but fell to Farmington, the eventual tourney champs, who held a regular season record of 40-1-1. The Storm was able to pull out a scoreless first period but struggled in the second, ending period two with a 4-0 Farmington lead. The girls rallied in the third, scoring one goal and holding their competitors to one, ending at 5-1 Farmington. The Storm did walk away with a feather in their cap by firing in the only goal scored against Farmington in the state tournament.

The girls came head-to-head with Burnsville for the third-place game on Sunday and ended with a sweet victory of 3-1 and headed home with the third place 12U B State Tournament trophy.

It’s amazing the difference a year can make. This small town team of underdogs saw the results of hard work, perseverance and teamwork, but more importantly formed strong friendships, created memories of a lifetime together, and learned exactly what they are capable of when they put their hearts and minds to something. These girls have made their coaches, families and communities proud in so many ways. Congratulations to the 2013/2014 North Shore 12U, the little team that could.