The pucks were crashing off the glass behind them, echoing throughout what was a barren Champlin Ice Forum.
Thirty-minutes or so prior, the Champlin Park girls hockey team had skated off the ice 4-0 losers to Elk River.
But after taking some time to cool off both mentally and physically from a night filled with frustration, seniors Leah Elledge and Hailey Adair emerged to the concourse to pay thanks to the teachers they had hand-picked to attend that night’s game on Teacher Appreciation Night for their team.
They smiled for photo’s, chatted for a few brief minutes, then headed back down the corridor where their locker room resides.
“Well, that game sucked,” said one.
“No kidding,” responded the other.
Defeats like this have not been piling up for the Rebels. On the contrary, Champlin Park had won 11 of its first 20 games, nearly matching last year’s win total (13) with two full weeks left to play in the regular season.
Their success, however, has been measured.
“We’ve won games, but not like we expected,” admitted Elledge. “We thought we’d win a lot more this year, but there is still time. We can still make this a season to remember.”
In hindsight, these two already have.
Both Elledge and Adair have committed to play hockey beyond high school in recent weeks. Elledge is heading to Division I Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., while Adair picked the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the Division II level of college hockey.
Their decisions were different.
Adair had been courted for the past two years by a number of schools, giving her some time to weigh her options. Elledge was more of late-bloomer on the ice. Lindenwood didn’t approach her until this year. But she jumped at the opportunity.
“It kind of came out of nowhere, to be honest,” said Elledge. “They came out and watched me and the chance was there so I just took it. It still amazes me how fast it came together.”
For anyone who has watched Champlin Park skate this winter, neither decision should come as much of a surprise.
The girls are the top two scorers for the Rebels. They share the ice on the team’s top line, top power play and top penalty kill unit. The chemistry between them is brewing with experience, and both said that is a big reason why they landed the chance to play in college.
“I think we make each other better,” said Adair. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, and that really helps. I just try and get her the puck, but I usually know where she’ll be.”
For much of the season, that’s been near the opposing goal. Elledge had 16 goals through the first 20 games, giving her a point total of 28 on the year. Adair had scored 12 times to go with her 12 assists, most of which have led directly to goals from Elledge.
“They just work so well together out on the ice,” said head coach Jim Koltes. “You can tell just by watching them that they’ve been playing together for awhile. At times, they make it look so easy.”
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Champlin Park’s season. The Rebels lost their starting goaltender (Hannah Goettle) to an injury back in mid-November. That led to an immediate change in on-ice philosophy for the team, as the focus turned to playing together in the defensive zone.
That move has lengthened the amount of ice players like Adair have been responsible for covering.
“We are asking her to do so much more defensively,” said Koltes. “We’ll float Leah some, only because we know Hailey can pressure that [defensive zone], get the puck and find Leah. It has cut down on Hailey’s goal production some, but it has really turned her into an all-around player who can have an impact all over the ice.”
The hope is that pays dividends by the time the section playoffs begin the second week of February.
Champlin Park still has thoughts of qualifying for what would be its first state tournament appearance. The Rebels are currently holding what would likely be the No. 4 seed for the Section 5AA tournament, and the could realistically still get the third seed.
Either way, like most everybody else in the state, they’ll have to win three playoff games to get there. Goettle could be back by then, but if not, Elledge, Adair, ninth-grader Kaleigh Martinson, a solid second trio and an offensively gifted blueline could still be enough to muster a little school history out of the season.
“That is what we are trying to do,” said Elledge. “Every time I think about this year, I think about how everything we do is our last time. This is the last time we play Elk River. We want to cherish it, and we don’t want it to end until we get to state.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]