USA Hockey held their Girls' Tier I National Tournament April 1-4 at the Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota, and I was able to catch some of the tournament to watch some of the U19 and U16 age brackets.
My first thought was the level of play here was really outstanding. It's not often you get to see the best vs. the best like this in hockey. On the boy's side, everything gets watered down with the top players splintering off to junior hockey or the NTDP. The closest comparison I could make in terms of pure talent level on the ice was the old Select Festivals when NTDP players used to participate too. It's fun to see that level of skill on the ice.
It produced some really great games too. I ran into a friend that primarily watches on the boy's side towards the end of the tournament who remarked that he saw one of the best games he had seen all season earlier in the tournament. I said the same, though it turned out we were talking about different games.
In the end, Shattuck-St.Mary's prevailed over Minnesota Elite teams in both the U16 and U19 finals. The Sabres overcame a 1-0 third period deficit to win 2-1, while the U19s survived a penalty shot in overtime to win the title. It was amusing to see the difference in how the teams treated this tournament Shattuck-St. Mary's brought busloads of students to cheer on their teams in the finals, while the Minnesota teams all dutifully switched goalies at the midway point of every game up to and including the national championship game.
I didn't get to watch every team. Most of what I saw came in the semifinals and finals(which unfortunately meant I missed one of the Minnesota White U19 team, who lost in OT in a great quarterfinal game), so I did get to see most of the top players here.
Here were a few players that stood out to me. Obviously there were too many good players to name them all, especially with the Minnesota teams where just about every player is or will be committed to a college at some point. I've listed players with their college commitment, unless I couldn't find one, in which case I listed their team. All info on commitments comes via CollegeCommitments.com or Minnesota Hockey Hub.
Mekenzie Steffen-D-Committed to Wisconsin- Calm and poised on the blue line. Distributes the puck really well and loves to use her big shot. Not necessarily a player that is going to jump into the rush to create offense, but is a big offensive weapon from the blue line.
Patti Marshall-D-Committed to Minnesota-Not many players have her combination of size and puckhandling ability. She's an ugly, but effective skater. I love her decision-making with the puck and her ability to create something out of nothing with her hands.
Presley Norby-F-Committed to Wisconsin-Norby won Ms. Hockey in Minnesota this year. She's small, but a great skater. Maybe it was just hype/expectations, but I was a little surprised she doesn't play with the puck on her stick more often. But she makes up for that by going hard into tough areas and being in the right position to pick up loose pucks. There's a real fearlessness in her game that I really like.
Alex Woken-F-Committed to Minnesota-Woken is strong and fast, and when she gets moving with the puck, she's really difficult to stop.
Madlynne Mills-F-Committed to Cornell-A small, but really slick playmaking forward.
Natalie Snodgrass-F-Committed to UConn-Not a blazing fast skater, but she's so good from the dots down in the offensive zone. She handles the puck really well and has a really strong stick. One of the most effective forwards at this tournament.
Shea Nelson-F-Committed to Penn State-A really good, high-energy two-way forward. Great skating ability and she backchecks and picks up defensive assignments as hard as she attacks offensively. She could play second or third line center for just about any team in the world.
Jacqueline Kaasa-F-Committed to Bemidji State-Great hockey sense makes her a nice scoring threat. Doesn't blow you away with her skills, but any time a scoring chance happens, she seems to be in the middle of it.
Sydney Brodt-F-Committed to Minnesota Duluth-Very similar player to Snodgrass. Not the prettiest skater, but gives a lot of effort and has the puck on her stick a lot.
Grace Bowlby-D-Committed to Wisconsin-A really smooth, fluid skater on the blue line. Passes the puck really well too.
Abby Halluska-F-Committed to Bemidji State- A really fast skater that is dangerous attacking one-on-one and uses that speed to create space for her to unleash a big wrist shot.
Taylor Wemple-D-Committed to North Dakota-Big defensive defenseman with pretty good skill for her size. She can handle the puck and make a strong first pass.
McKenzie Sederberg-D-Committed to Minnesota State-Love her patience with the puck and ability to find a second or third option to maintain possession under pressure.
KJ Blumberg-F-Honeybaked-Honeybaked was blown out by Shattuck in the game I watched, but she was the most effective HB forward.
Carly Bullock-F-Committed to Princeton
Jesse Compher-F-Committed to Boston University
Sylvia Wallin-D-Committed to Princeton
Kenzie Prater-F-Committed to Quinnipiac
Brooke Madsen-F-Committed to Penn State
Makenna Webster-F-Shattuck-She's the next star player for USA Hockey. What she's doing as the best player in the U16 age bracket as a 2002-birthdate against players 2-3 older than her is almost unfathomable. She's not as physically developed due to her age, but she makes up for that with A+ hockey sense. She has a way of finding the puck and making something happen every shift she's on the ice. It's going to be exciting to watch her develop.
Taylor Heise-F-Committed to Minnesota-The fastest pure skater in this group, and she's skilled enough to make plays at that speed. It's exciting every time she brings the puck up the ice. Only complaint was that whether it was an injury or just spring/summer hockey, she was really struggling to finish shifts in her game against Shattuck. She's got potential to be a real star.
Gracie Ostertag-D-Committed to Minnesota-An absolute rock on the blue line. She doesn't necessarily stand out with one amazing skill, but is really, really good at everything. Great skater, tough defensive presence, and can contribute offense.
Natalie Buchbinder-D-Committed to Wisconsin-Really solid in every aspect of her game. Probably more of a defensive defenseman moving forward, but scored the championship-winning goal on a really nice wrist shot.
Grace Lee-F-Committed to Yale-A really hard-working, smart player with good playmaking ability and a surprisingly hard shot.
Maggie Connors-F-Shattuck-One of the only Canadians here. Top line forward for the Shattuck U16s. Her skating isn't spectacular, but she makes a lot of plays. Just a smart, solid all-around player.
Lolita Fidler-F-MN Sky-A really nice skater. She's about a half-step ahead of everybody else when she's on the ice.
Taylor Matherson-D-Mass Eagles-A big defenseman that logged a lot of minutes for the Eagles in their semifinal loss. Some offensive ability, but likely projects as a shutdown defensive D at the collegiate level.
Julia MacLean-D-Mass Eagles-Doesn't have the same physical abilities of some of the elite players in this group, but is one of the smartest and most effective. She made so many nice little plays to move the puck and maintain possession when pressured.
Naomi Rogge-F-Committed to Minnesota Duluth-Top forward on the Minnesota Grey team.
Courtney Vorster-D-Committed to Quinnipiac-Also Canadian. A smart defenseman with good offensive upside.
Lindsay Featherstone-F-Committed to Bemidji State-Two-way center that is a really great, strong skater and picks up defensive assignments really well.
Marielle McHale-F-Mass Eagles-Huge power forward that is really difficult to take off the puck. Skilled enough that there could be huge offensive upside to her game.
Sophia Slattery-F-MN Grey
McKenzie Revering-D-Committed to Minnesota Duluth
Mariah Keopple-D-MN Sky
Savannah Norcross-F-Committed to Boston College
Katherine Tresca-F-Mass Eagles
Margaret Flaherty-D-MN Sky
Madison Bizal-D-Committed to Ohio State