Every night, there’s an echo that rings throughout Fiona Claugherty’s house.
Each time the sound is made, it brings a certain joy to Claugherty and her parents.
That sound is the flick of a hockey stick and the puck connecting on the practice net. That sound sometimes becomes louder because the puck misses the mat and connects on the wall of the garage.
Claugherty will spend hours in the garage shooting pucks until her mom tells her to go to bed or do her homework.
The garage is a place where she not only gets better at hockey, but it’s also a place she found her love for the sport.
“It’s a place to escape for a couple of hours each night,” Claugherty said. “It’s nice to be in the garage and shooting pucks and forgetting about everything else for a little while.”
The senior on the East Ridge girls’ hockey team understands her love of hockey after experiencing the highs and lows throughout her varsity career. There are moments she smiles back on and others that she wants to forget, but ultimately those moments have made her the player and person she is today.
“It’s been so much fun watching her grow as a player, leader and person this season,” said East Ridge head coach Kim McClintick. “She comes into each practice with a smile and always enjoys the time on the ice with her teammates. It’s honestly so much fun to watch as a coach.”
Claugherty grew up in the Stillwater area and played hockey in the Stillwater youth leagues. Hockey became her primary sport starting at 4 years old. Her older siblings also played hockey in their childhood.
The entire family would play hockey on the pond in their backyard and that’s the first time she started loving the sport. Once she got into the youth leagues, she realized this could potentially be a sport she played in high school.
Claugherty faced some transition once she reached middle school as she switched districts — from Stillwater to East Ridge. She had to adapt to a new school, new friends and a new community.
“It was hard not being able to play with my Stillwater friends each day,” Claugherty said. “It took some time to adjust, but luckily I had my sister to help me with everything.”
Her older sister was on the varsity team at East Ridge when Claugherty played her first varsity year in eighth grade. She didn’t play much during her eighth grade and freshman years, but that changed as a sophomore.
Claugherty had more playing time as a sophomore and she used it wisely. She scored 31 goals and also recorded 15 assists to tally 46 points on the season.
She was the leading scorer by 19 goals — one of her peaks in her varsity career.
“I think my big year came in my sophomore year because I went from nine goals as a freshman to over 30 goals as a sophomore,” Claugherty said. “I continued to learn more about the sport during that season and I think it built me into a leader as an upperclassman.”
One heartbreaking hit
Claugherty started off her junior year strong even though most eyes were focused on the large senior class for the Raptors during the 2018-19 season. Then, she faced the lowest low of her career on Dec. 8, 2018.
East Ridge hosted Stillwater, but for Claugherty it meant so much more. For her, the Ponies were her rival and she wanted to win that one more than any other game in the season.
The game started off well for her as she scored a goal in the first period and recorded an assist in the second. That strong start vanished in the middle of the game.
Claugherty stole a puck from the Ponies and broke away for what looked to be a goal opportunity. When she got closer to the Stillwater goalie, she brought her stick back to hit a slap shot.
In the midst of her shooting, she was knocked to the ice by a Stillwater defender. When Claugherty hit the ice, she landed awkwardly on her shoulder.
“I knew something was wrong, but I was too scared to think something actually was wrong,” Claugherty said.
After the fall, there was no penalty but there was a face off. The East Ridge center won the face off and sent the puck to Claugherty.
She slapped the puck towards the net and the goalie saved it. After that shot, she knew something was wrong with her shoulder as tears started to form under her helmet.
Claugherty stayed out there for the next face off with the puck coming to her once again. She took another slap shot towards the net and after that shot, she was done. Claugherty knew it was something more than just a nagging injury.
“After the second shot, I remember her coming off the ice and saying, ‘something is moving,’” McClintick said. “Once she said that, I said you’re done and she sat for the rest of the game. Then, you see her standing there with a bag of ice on her shoulder and your heart breaks for her.”
After the game finished, Claugherty and her parents went to the emergency room and had X-rays done on her shoulder. Claugherty said the first diagnosis was that the collarbone was partially broken.
About three days after the first X-ray, Claugherty said the new results showed the collarbone was completely displaced and she was required to have surgery.
“We scheduled the surgery three days later and I came in with pneumonia, and they said they couldn’t do the surgery,” Claugherty said. “Everything was going downhill, so I finally got the surgery done two weeks later.”
After the surgery, it was an odd feeling for Claugherty because she couldn’t do the little things she enjoyed like puck shooting or ice skating or many of the hockey activities.
For McClintick, this was her first year as the East Ridge head coach and she was still getting to know the players. She wanted to give Claugherty her space after the surgery, but she also wanted her to know that she was there for anything she needed. It was tough for McClintick to go through because she never wanted to see one of her players go through an injury like.
“It was strange because when I was watching the games, I realized how much it meant to me,” Claugherty said. “I actually realized how much I love this sport.”
Uncommon healing leads to quick turnaround
Once Claugherty had surgery, McClintick thought she was done for the year since the season only had a couple more months left. Claugherty had other plans.
When she started physical therapy, she could already put her arm above her head and do stretches that the therapist wasn’t expecting. By the second session, Claugherty was using her stick and gloves which wasn’t supposed to happen for another two or three weeks.
“The physical therapist was shocked to see that I could do everything at the beginning and they had to change plans because of my improvements,” Claugherty said. “They told me that this never happens. It should’ve taken two to three months to fully heal and it took me two to three weeks.”
McClintick said she was shocked to see her cleared for practice only two to three weeks after her first physical therapy session, but she was excited to have her back for the postseason.
The Raptors knew they could make a strong run to the state tournament and they wanted all of their players ready to go for sections and state. Claugherty came back with a couple games left in the regular season and helped East Ridge win the section title and advance to the state tournament.
She shined in the state tournament with some strong performances and that confidence carried into the 2019-20 season. She became the leader and captain during her senior year and she’s shown it both on and off the ice.
“She’s a perfect leader for this team because she’s taking these younger girls under her wing,” McClintick said. “It’s great to watch and I’m so proud of what she’s accomplished on the ice and off it too.”
Claugherty has helped this young Raptors team stay at a .500 record this season including some big conference wins against teams like Forest Lake. She’s also put on a spectacle individually, being one of the top goal scorers in the state.
As of Jan. 5, Claugherty has scored 26 goals, putting her tied for third in the state. She’s tied for being the top goal scorer in Class AA as the other two girls are playing in Class A.
For her, the secret is simple.
“I keep my eyes up and I’m looking everywhere,” Claugherty said. “If I see a good shot, I’ll take it. Otherwise, I’ll find my teammates for better shots. My teammates are the reason why I’ve reached that many goals this season, so it definitely takes a team to reach this achievement.”
Her focus is centered on making a strong run to end the regular season and try to get back to the state tournament. She knows this team is capable of many good things and they just need to keep working at each aspect in practice.
After the season is over, Claugherty needs to make a decision on her future. She hasn’t committed to a college yet because she wasn’t sure if hockey was something she wanted to do in the future.
After this injury, Claugherty said she’s soaking in each moment she can. McClintick has helped her with providing her feedback and past experiences of college hockey so she can make a good choice for her when the time comes. As for area of study, she enjoys chemistry and thinks something in the medical field.
“I know she’s going to do great things when she graduates from East Ridge and I can’t wait to watch her journey,” McClintick said. “She’s not only a great hockey player with a strong IQ and skills, but she’s also a great person and that’s going to take her far.”
Claugherty said she’ll take many fun memories with her from the five years on varsity, but her favorite moment will be during her sophomore year as a Raptor. East Ridge played at Stillwater on December 9, 2017, and the Raptors were down 3-2 in the third period. In the last couple of minutes, Claugherty took a shot at the goal and connected to tie the game at 3-3 and send it to overtime.
About five minutes into overtime, Claugherty had another good shot at the net and took it. It went past the goalie and East Ridge won the game 4-3. The win meant a lot to her because it was a win against a team she grew up playing with and a rivalry she holds close to her heart.
“This sport has taught me so much and during my time at East Ridge, I’ve started to love this sport more and more,” Claugherty said. “I just want to finish my senior year strong and do the best I can because this program did so much for me.”