East Ridge head coach Kim McClintick remembers the first day of tryouts like it was yesterday.
She remembers the 35 girls on the ice and her thoughts of how each girl was going to help the team this upcoming season.
The role that every player would have and how it would mesh with each girl to form a cohesive team. On Friday afternoon, McClintick saw that final ending of what started about three months ago.
"Coming in as a new coach, there's always some hesitation," McClintick said. "You want to make sure the girls feel comfortable, but you also want to form your own ways of doing things."
It took time but that relationship between the players and coaches formed and since then the team has soared to a record-breaking season.
The first time the Raptors girls hockey team won a section championship and played in a state tournament game. Fiona Claughtery was the first girls hockey player to score a goal at the state tournament in East Ridge program history.
She scored two goals in the third period against Maple Grove in the consolation semifinal, but it wasn't enough as the Crimson finished the game with a 5-2 win and eliminated the Raptors from the tournament. The focus wasn't on that one game, but rather what that one game represented for the future of this program.
"It's been fun to see this program grow with each year," said Addi Scribner. "This was my favorite hockey season because everyone knew everyone and every player had the same goal in mind."
Katie Flynn said the future of this program is just getting started. There are nine seniors departing from the team, but some key essentials are coming back.
"It's always tough to come back from nine seniors graduating," Flynn said. "But, I believe this team and this program will be back at this point again very soon."
The hockey team will have their goalie back as Emerald Kelley is a junior. The Raptors will also have a goalscorer back with junior Claughtery.
The focus isn't on the future wins and losses records, but rather the focus of the direction of the program and playing for the right reasons.
"Every time we get ready for a game, we know what it means to take the ice with that jersey on," said Anne Larsen. "That focus needs to be there even with nine seniors leaving."
The younger girls are confident that tradition and expectation will continue to grow next season and future seasons.
After the loss on Friday, McClintick looked back at tryouts again. Instead of 35 girls on the ice, it was nine seniors in the locker room.
The discussion wasn't about the loss or anything really about the state tournament. Instead, the focus was around the legacy they built in this program and how they will continue doing great things in the future.
"Words can't describe how much these seniors mean to me," McClintick said. "I know each of them will have great futures and I just hope I can be there for them along their journey. Whether it's a letter of recommendation or helping out with homework or just a simple conversation, I want them to understand that once a Raptor, always a Raptor."
When the East Ridge girls hockey team reaches the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night, they went straight to the locker room to drop off their gear and equipment.
After a couple seconds in the locker room, the players ran out to the ice to soak in the moment. They all were standing at the bench and staring at the ice in front of them.
The feelings of excitement and nervousness had mixed for most of the players, but there's one thing that wasn't going to change for these Raptors.
These girls were going to play in the quarterfinals at the state tournament for the first time in program history.
For head coach Kim McClintick, this is the reason she coaches and why she accepted this job before this current season.
"People ask why do you put in the effort [to be a head coach]," McClintick said. "Then you see the girls smiling and taking pictures out on the ice [before the game]. That's why. It's captured right there. The smiles on their faces. The memories they're going to have from this tournament. The hard work being paid off."
McClintick and junior Fiona Claugherty agreed that they had a tough draw as East Ridge faced No. 1 seed Edina in the opening rounds of the state tournament. The focus was on stopping the fast Hornets for three periods, but the Raptors weren't able to contain them with a 7-0 loss on Thursday night.
Even though it was a tough loss, Claugherty said the players all had smiles on their faces throughout the game because the experience of playing at Xcel is indescribable.
"We got the unlucky draw, but that didn't stop us from trying our best," Claugherty said.
This East Ridge team consists of 10 seniors and their goal at the beginning of the season was to reach state. Now that they have, they can't put into words what this means for the players, coaches and the community.
McClintick said that this experience of reaching state not only helps the current team, but it helps the future of East Ridge girls hockey. Some Woodbury families send their kids to Cretin-Derham Hall or Hill-Murray for girls hockey, but being here shows that staying in the Woodbury community can also give the player a chance to reach state too.
The Woodbury community is divided up as two high schools share the kids that are in the community. A handful of students will end up at Woodbury High School, while the rest will attend East Ridge High School.
The youth programs in Woodbury are a combined Woodbury and East Ridge program. McClintick knows some of these players will end up in Woodbury, but she hopes that the players that are thinking of attending East Ridge decide to go to that high school.
"It's huge to say 'hey, we're a public school and we can go to the state tournament without having to go off to a private school,'" McClintick said. "I think we're starting to build that bridge between the youth and the high school and continue to build that program to keep kids at East Ridge."
As for Claugherty, she is one of the few players returning to this Raptor team next season. She's learned a lot along the way this season as she will be looked upon as a leader next season.
She understands what it takes to reach this point and how much hard work needs to be put in on a daily basis to fight through the regular season and the section tournament. Only eight teams reach the state tournament for Class AA and she said it's an honor to represent our city and community at this type of tournament.
The Raptors season hasn't come to an end quite yet as they continue to play in the consolation bracket. East Ridge will play Maple Grove in the consolation semifinals on Friday, Feb. 22 at noon at the TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center in St. Paul.
The winner of that game will play in the consolation championship on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 11:30 a.m. at the TRIA Rink against the winner of Farmington and White Bear Lake.
"We did try our hardest today," Claugherty said. "We just need to keep doing that tomorrow. Throughout the entire game, we still had a positive attitude. That's why we're here is to have fun at the X, at state. We just need to take it all in."