TRAVERSE CITY — The 12-and-under North Stars girls hockey team shot for the moon this season.
They hit their mark with precision.
The Grand Traverse Hockey Association's 12U girls team won their first state championship in the Little Caesars League in March after the team started the season with only nine skaters and a goalie. The lack of depth didn't sour their season.
Second-year head coach Brian Carrigan knew they had a shot from the start. It was all a matter of making the right steps.
"Once we started, all the games were really close and I knew we had a chance," said Carrigan, who has been with the organization for five years. "The whole year we would lose a game against a team and I would be OK with it. We still had a goal."
Although a state championship seemed elusive for the girls, they came into every game with the right attitude.
The team needed constant improvement and the addition of a few key pieces in order to push forward.
“I truly felt that there was a chance that we could compete with any of the teams we played with this year," Carrigan said. "Having that chance was awesome. Every time we took the ice we had a chance to win and to have fun.”
Creating a team with enough skaters was just the first issue. All of the teams the North Stars play are based downstate. Many of these programs field multiple teams at each age group, making the road for the North Stars even rockier.
After adding a few more members, the North Stars came together behind new goalie Riley Scollard and turned their game up a notch. Scollard was eventually named the recipient of the Memorial Cup, bestowed upon the league's best goaltender.
The Stars continued to improve and seized the opportunity with each passing game.
"The girls really responded, they were a different breed," Carrigan said. "You sometimes need to have a different style when you coach an all-female team. They are very social and they are there to have fun. The question is how you run that fine line of keeping the fun and teaching them how to play the game.”
Teaching the technical skills was a challenge for Carrigan, but he found creative ways off of the ice to help enhance their abilities.
The North Stars focused on conditioning and proper technique, something that paid off in the long run. The most important part was getting the team to believe in themselves.
“I’m not a big ‘we have to win’ type of guy," Carrigan said. "I always tell the kids that you’re going to lose some battles, you’re going to lose some games and that’s fine. You just can never give up. If you keep trying and the harder you work at it the more success you will have.”
After the grind of the regular season, which runs from November to March, the girls found the success they were targeting.
The team rolled through their first three opponents in the state tournament, but met with favorite Kensington Valley in the semifinal. The North Stars knocked out the top-seeded Ravens in overtime, boosting them to a new level.
The North Stars would then squeeze by the Troy Lady Sting, 4-3, in the final.
Carrigan is hoping to recreate the success with a core group of returning players this season. They lost five girls to the 14U age bracket, but now have the recruiting tool of a state title.
“When you are in the community and playing the other teams, you get the reaction that TC is up and coming and that is really cool," Carrigan said. "The state championship gave me a bit of an ace in the hole. We need to use that to promote and recruit new kids."
The North Stars will be hosting a 'Try Hockey Free' event July 21 at Centre Ice Arena for girls interested in trying hockey for the first time. GTHA will provide the gear needed to participate. All athletes have to do is register by email.
The North Stars offer girls hockey teams at the under-10, under-12, under-14 and under-19 age groups. Registration is open for all teams.