Sun Prairie co-op goalie Taylor Thornton did all she could to give her team a shot at hoisting the state title hardware.
The senior, who is also the coach’s daughter, made several key saves but the speed and skill of the Eau Claire North co-op Stars proved too much for the Cougars, as they fell 3-1 in the WIAA girls hockey state championship game on Saturday at the Dane County Coliseum.
“I don’t often talk about my daughter. I wouldn’t let her be a captain this year. She’s never eligible for an award,” Cap City Cougars coach Jeff Thornton said. “But as a coach, I think she was an excellent goaltender today. As a father, I just couldn’t be prouder.”
Thornton had to make 24 saves while Stars counterpart Naomi Stow only had to make nine stops.
Eau Claire North senior forward Abigail Stow, who led the state with 47 goals and was named Wisconsin’s Ms. Hockey on Thursday, scored twice in the final period after narrowly missing a multitude of chances throughout.
An apparent goal in the second period was nullified when the referee blew the play dead just before the puck crossed the line. Stow also twice hit iron.
In the third period, junior forward Ava Kison’s shot from the right slot was turned away by Thornton. But the rebound came right to the stick of Stow, who buried the puck into the open net to give the Stars (26-3) a 2-1 lead.
Six minutes later, Kison beat Thornton with a nifty backhand, pushing North’s lead to 3-1.
“We used so much energy in the first two periods. We played so hard, you could see the legs were starting to tire a little bit,” coach Thornton said. “Their studs were starting to take over. They’re an excellent hockey team and they gave us everything they had.”
Despite trailing in shots 19-8, the Cougars went into the second intermission tied at 1.
Kison opened the scoring 10:41 into the first, putting home a rebound after a shot from Stow.
The momentum appeared to be squarely on the Stars’ side, as the Cougars went to the penalty kill two minutes later when freshman forward Amanda Bauer was whistled for a hook.
But the Stars mishandled the puck in their offensive zone, enabling senior forward Colleen Milligan to find a streaking Zephryn Jager in the neutral zone. The sophomore forward beat Naomi Stow top shelf on the breakaway to knot the game at 1.
The contest marks the end of the road for a senior class that helped the Cap City program reach its first state semifinal a year ago and win its first game at the tournament this year.
Milligan, who had three points in the tournament, said she couldn’t be more proud of her teammates.
“All of the seniors, we’ve been playing with each other since mites and squirts and it’s super cool to be able to make history together,” Milligan said. “I’m gonna miss them a lot.”
Senior defenseman Margo Thousand, who led the team in points, said she wished she could have done a little more, but took pride in the legacy she and her fellow seniors left on Cougars hockey.
“I feel pretty proud of myself. Last year, we made it to state. This year we made it to the championship,” Thousand said. “So next year, fingers crossed, I’ll come back and watch if they come here.”
It was an emotional end to the season for Jeff Thornton, who coached his daughter — his last kid still playing hockey — for the final time. But despite watching his team and his daughter fall just short of their ultimate goal, he had nothing but praise for his squad and the impact they’ve had on the program.
“When the hurt wears off a little bit, they’re gonna be incredibly proud,” he said. “They can come back 25 years from now, 30 years from now and that trophy is still gonna be sitting (in the locker room). And they know they worked their butts off to do it.
Sun Prairie co-op 1 0 0 — 1
Eau Claire North 1 0 2 — 3
First period: ECN — Kison (A. Stow), 10:41; SP — Jager (Milligan), 13:55 (sh).
Third period: ECN — A. Stow (L. Carmody, Olson), 5:37; Kison (A. Stow), 11:30.
Shots — SP 4-4-2-10 (Jager 3, Bauer 2, Sheridan 2), ECN 8-11-8-27 (A. Stow 9, Kison 6, L. Carmody 3). Saves — SP (Thonton) 24; ECN (N. Stow) 8. Penalties — SP 2-4; ECN 3-6.