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North Shore Storm Hockey State Bound State Bound

Girls 12U and Boys Pee Wee teams advance to MN State Hockey Tournament

Going into the 2022/23 season, the North Shore Storm PeeWee team knew Silver Bay’s Rukavina Arena would be hosting the Minne­sota PeeWee North Regional Tour­nament. Their goal early on was to advance in the District Tournament for a spot in Regions at their home rink, and a shot at a State Tourna­ment spot. Well, they met their goal this past weekend!

The team started off with a suc­cessful season, but then in January they lost a player to a broken bone and he would be out the rest of the season. This meant the remaining players would have to play the rest of the season with less than two lines. Something not unheard of for small-town teams, but not ideal either. Although an upsetting fact, the rest of the team stepped up and pushed themselves even harder to fill that player’s gap. Skaters would have to double up on their shifts or take shorter breaks between shifts. In the long run, this would also train the skaters to push themselves farther and gain more strength and stamina, lending itself to a much stronger team. Something larger towns with more players on the bench wouldn’t have to do.

A key moment in their season was when the team faced off against the top-ranked Hermantown Hawks in the Championship game in Her­mantown’s home tournament. They had beat the Storm twice already in the season. The Storm went into that game with a game plan and every player on the team probably played their best game of the sea­son at that point and walked away with a 6-1 win. After defeating the #1 team in the state, the Storm team was on the radar of all the top-ranked teams in the state. They took calls from teams all over the state willing to make the drive and get a piece of the Storm. As a result, they picked up a few additional games and once again found success. Of the few teams the Storm lost to this year, the boys got payback and de­feated them all the last games they played each other.

After a successful regular season and battling their way up through the District 11 Tournament, the Peewees reached one of their goals, to represent NE Minnesota in the Minnesota Regional Tournament – on home ice in Silver Bay. As the Regions weekend started, the team received some good news. Their once-injured teammate was cleared and would be back on the ice with them.

The Storm beat East Grand Forks last Friday night to start off the weekend, only to outplay yet lose to Duluth East on Saturday morn­ing. Not willing to let that happen again, they mentally set them­selves up for a win against Red River Falls Saturday night. Sunday morning they would have to play East Grand Forks again. Prior to that game, they learned that if they won the upcoming game against East Grand Forks, it would set the team up to play against Duluth East again later that day in a game that, if won, could advance them to State. The team was fired up and wanted that second chance against Duluth East! Coaches reminded them they still had a game to win before that could happen. The Storm delivered as promised – another win against East Grand Forks! With their sea­son on the line, the winner of this next game against Duluth East, on the Storm’s home ice, would ad­vance to the State Tournament.

Throughout the Regional Tour­nament, the amount of fan support at the arena was overwhelming. From a group of young cheerlead­ers, fans with signs, alumni, fam­ily, to community members, fans filled the stands to support a local youth hockey team. “In the locker room, before the game, the kids were talking amongst themselves on what it would mean to make it to State and this might be their only shot they ever get at it,” states Coach Dustin Goutermont. “We talked about that game earlier in the season against Hermantown, where every player has to step up and has a role on the team. It’s also a lot of little plays and puck battles that win you big games.”

In the final game of the weekend, the Storm came out of the locker room buzzing. They put the first goal on the scoreboard and never looked back, defeating the Duluth East Greyhounds 4-0 in that game and punched their ticket into the State Tournament being held in Warroad, MN, March 17-19.

“With a season record of 31-6-2, being a top state-ranked team all season, advancing to Regionals, and qualifying for the State Tour­nament, I’d say this group of boys have had a successful season and one they will remember and talk about for the rest of their lives. They aren’t done yet, though! We plan on trekking north to Hockey Town, USA and bringing some hardware back to the Shore,” says Goutermont.

North Shore Storm Girls 12U head to State Tournament. (photo submitted by Gracie Komarek)

Gracie Komarek is not only the coach of the North Shore Storm 12U team, but she is also a “found­er” of girls’ hockey on the north shore. Going back to her 6th-grade year in school, girls hockey didn’t exist in Two Harbors at the time. She found herself at a crossroad, either playing with the boys or not playing at all. So, what’s any 6th grader to do? Start a girls 12U team, that’s what! Gracie went in front of the Two Harbors Youth Hockey Board and asked about forming a 12U team. At that time she only had 6 players committed to playing at that level. She was shot down by the board due to not enough committed players. Gracie wasn’t taking no for an answer. She then went out and found elev­en more girls willing to play. She approached the board again, got the go-ahead, and the rest is history! That first-year team had a rough go of it for their first season, but the following season they took them­selves all the way to State!

The newly named Sonju Arena in Two Harbors hosted this season’s Girls 12U Regional Tournament over the first weekend of March. The North Shore Storm 12U drive to state was nothing short of amaz­ing. “The team definitely kept it interesting and the atmosphere of the arena was like nothing I have ever seen for our girl’s hockey com­munity before,” says Coach Gracie Komarek.

Their first game was matched up with Bemidji and ended in a 6-0 win.

In the second game they played Grand Rapids Greenway, ending in nail-biting 3-2 overtime win. Which, according to Gracie, was “By far the best game of the week­end to witness”!

The third game for the champi­onship was played against Rock Ridge B1, a team the Storm had tied and lost to all season. They weren’t able to pull this one off and ended with a 3-0 loss. Even with the loss, goalie Emmy Bentler was phenom­enal and played a strong game.

Because they lost the champion­ship game, they still had one more chance to play for second seed to state against Grand Rapids Green­way again. The Storm was ready both mentally and physically for the challenge and ended the game with a 2-0 win, earning their ride to state!

Currently, the team’s 2022/23 re­cord is 26-6-3.

“The biggest standout moments from our season have been our two home tournament championships. These were two major turning points in our season. I started to see my team become confident and re­alize they had a really good chance at making it far this season,” says Komarek.

When asked about how she feels about the team overall this past sea­son, Coach Komarek said this, “The team has come so far this season all the way from our youngest player on the team to our 4th-year returner. The girls started making such large strides about halfway through our season and it has been really fun to watch as a coaching staff how far these girls have come.”

For young/female athletes, it’s all about instilling confidence in the players. “From the beginning I knew that helping these girls be­come confident in their abilities and in each other is what would drive their improvement throughout the season. This team is 100 percent walking proof of that!”

As of press time, the team has 5 practices until state tournament time, and all season they have worked on implementing/teaching systems and special teams with the girls. This is something they plan to really tidy up in the next week. Including a lot of team bonding as well!

The Girls 12U State Tournament is March 17th-19th in Faribault, MN.

As a coach, Komarek’s favorite memory was the day of Regions. All of the girls brought a gift and a note to give to another teammate to cheer them on. “Getting to see the girls read their notes about each other was something I will never forget in my coaching career.”

“I am truly so proud of our team this season! At the beginning we really had no idea what the turnout would be. These girls have put in a lot of hard work and put in ex­tra time doing team dryland after practice and really utilizing any ice time they could get this season. As a coach, I feel that my own hockey career playing all led to this mo­ment and coaching this team this season. I am really the lucky one!”

Congratulations to the North Shore Storm PeeWee team, the North Shore Storm Girls 12U team, and coaches on a stellar season. The best of luck to you all at State!

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