IDAHO — Team Idaho's 16 and under girls hockey team clinched their spot at the 2021 USA Hockey Chipotle National Championships.
It's only the second time in history Idaho has sent a girls team to nationals and they're the only 16U team to go to both regionals and nationals.
“Absolutely it was exciting because it is a goal you set early in the year, and all year long, you are working towards this one objective and to see the girls accomplish it, it is just phenomenal,” Jason Haugen, Team Idaho's head coach, said.
"To represent Idaho, it is just a very big honor because girls hockey isn't really that big here, but then again it is kind of cool to see where we have come from," Ellison Daniel, Team Idaho player, said. "As just young girls playing hockey to now, we are playing at a pretty competitive level. It is pretty exciting."
It was their 3-0 win over Arizona at regionals that secured Team Idaho's spot in the National Championship tournament.
“It was funny we didn’t realize that if we won the game we would go to nationals," Daniel said. "On the period break, we were like 'oh wait we can go to nationals.' We were ahead three points and then we were all really excited and were like we can do this.”
“Everyone was so happy at the end of the game," Elan Forde, Team Idaho player, said. "We could see our parents in the stands and we were really happy that they were able to take us there.”
But, because of the pandemic, the team's main ice rink was closed, leaving them with no place to practice together.
So how does a team that hasn't practiced together since November play at such a high level?
“There’s this unique bond that has formed," Haugen said. "A lot of the teams we play practice three times a week on the ice and another fourth off the ice. We practice together maybe three times a year, and it is in crazy unique weird places. But we have this philosophy of when we are playing together we are developing.”
Their only time together is at competitive tournaments.
But Coach Haugen said when they go to these tournaments, it's not about winning them.
"Every time we are together we may choose to work on a concept at the expense of winning a game so we become better people, better players, a better team, and we have a ton of fun doing that," Haugen said. "We spend an enormous amount of time bonding and the girls just really love each other."
Coach Haugen says the work they do outside of hockey translates to the ice, leading to their great successes.
“When we get to play with each other we do play quite well since we know each other's weaknesses and also their strengths," Daniel said. "We capitalize on that.”
Instead of letting all these setbacks of not having ice and having a team that spans the whole state bring them down, the team uses it as motivation.
They focus a lot on conditioning and mental training, and the girls have to get ice time on their own with local teams.
"They are coming with these really strong foundational skills and can compete with anyone on a skill level across the state. So when we get together we don’t have to focus on that," Haugen said. "We can then instead focus on advanced hockey IQ, using your intelligence and your brain to figure out how to play a better game, and introduce advanced concepts."
Not only is it a great accomplishment for a talented group; it's also doing a lot for the sport in our state.
"Not only does it grow girls hockey, but it also grows the level of girls hockey here in Idaho, and in a non-hockey state we are going to be a competitor. We are going to be a threat," Haugen said. "Two years ago nobody took us seriously. This year they take us seriously and they know we are the team to beat and we have the target on our back.”
Team Idaho will head to the 2021 USA Hockey Chipotle National Championship in Denver on April 29.