Miracle on the ice: Girls skate into fourth overtime last weekend
It was Minnesota's "Miracle on Ice."
The U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, if confronted by this puck-handling group from Park Rapids, might just play like a bunch of little girls.
Last weekend a group of girls 12 and under skated their young hearts out in Long Prairie at a district tournament, into a fourth overtime, only to lose in sudden death. The kids were on the ice more than two hours when it was all said and done.
"It was amazing!" recalled left winger Abbey Kisner, a hockey veteran of six years at the tender age of 12.
Their legs were like rubber during that fourth overtime, said coach Theresa Otterness.
'They were able to look beyond that, they wanted it so badly," she said. "They gave it their all."
The girls faced off against Alexandria in the Youth Hockey Association's District 4 competition to determine which top three teams would go to on to regionals.
Alex had been beaten twice during the season, but this was a different story.
Park Rapids outshot Alex 42-19 during the game, but after three periods, the score was tied.
"It was really exciting but we were nervous," said 12-year-old defensive player Tayah Otterness.
Tayah and Abbey are among the older kids on the squad.
"Our backup goalie came straight out of mites," Theresa said. "Half of our girls could have been on a 10 and under team if we'd had one in the league. We have a pretty young team."
But the girls rallied through those 15-minute periods and were psyched going into the first overtime, Theresa said.
They played five on five for five minutes; then five on five for another five minutes.
Two OTs down; still tied.
There was a slight break in the action for the Zamboni to clean the ice. It had gotten pretty roughed up in the melee.
Then the real challenge began. They were skating four on four in that third overtime, ten minutes long.
"We were exhausted," Tayah admitted.
The fourth overtime began. They were skating three on three, wobbling on legs that were beyond tired. Many line changes ensued.
Seven minutes in, Alex scored the winning goal.
Were they crushed by the defeat?
"No, not really," Abbey said. "We were just happy we did so well."
Ironically, they had to play Alexandria again later in the tournament to see who would go to regionals. Park Rapids lost and placed fourth.
There's no regrets from any of the team, Theresa said. She's thrilled with her young skaters.
"They like to go to birthday parties and hang out with their friends" when they're not on the rink, the coach said.
Tayah hits the rink for open hockey to scrimmage with anybody who'll shoot a puck.
Abbey likes to play softball and volleyball.
Goalie Julia Smith and teammate Mariena Dearstyne typify the young players' depth of experience, rink rats since they were toddlers. Mariena took years of figure skating lessons and decided she liked the feel of a hockey stick in her gloved hands.
Julia put in her hours on a home rink.
"They're normal little girls," Theresa said. "They're just tough on the ice."
And how would they stack up against those Olympians?
"Oh, I don't think we'd do very well," Abbey said modestly.
""I don't know," Tayah said. Then after a moment's thought, she reconsidered.