During the U19 Girls A Division state tournament in Gillette, March 3-5, Lauren Asher shot the game-winning goal and Kayla Kolpitcke blocked the final shot from a Rock Springs opponent during the game’s shootout for the win.
It was Rock Springs’ first and only loss of the season — in fact, the squad had beaten Park County a day earlier.
“It was a great season, I would say this one for sure was the most fulfilling win because we were the underdog,” said Ice Cats head coach Angie Johnson.
During the March 5 title game, the Ice Cats were tied with Rock Springs at the end of regulation, 2-2, forcing an overtime.
Five extra minutes passed with the contest still tied, turning the game into a shootout.
In the first shootout, five players from each team were sent onto the ice to skate one-on-one against the opposing goalie to try to score in alternating turns; neither team made a goal.
That sent the game into a second phase of the shootout, where each team picks a player to shoot; the two opposing sides then alternate turns until a goal is made and goes unanswered.
Asher slid the puck past the Rock Springs goalie to put the Park County Ice Cats ahead, 3-2.
Rock Springs then got one final attempt to tie the game, as a miss would end it. Kolpitcke blocked the shot to clinch the state championship game for the Ice Cats.
The team didn’t just battle in the overtimes and shootouts for the victory — the local players had to come from behind two different times during regulation.
Rock Springs scored its first goal 2:20 into the first period to lead 1-0. Then, with 4:30 remaining in the period, Hattie Pimentel scored to tie the game.
Rock Springs, however, would score again in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Again, Park County would answer.
In the third period, with 10:58 remaining, Madalyn Montgomery scored off an assist from Asher to knot things up at 2 and eventually force overtime.
This state championship was the Park County team’s fourth title in five years.
This year’s Park County Ice Cat women’s hockey team featured four Powell players: Asher, Kolpitcke, Pimentel and Jada Woodward. Asher, Kolpitcke and Pimentel have been on the team for all four championships while Woodward has been there for the current run of three consecutive championships.
The Park County Ice Cats started their tournament with wins over Casper (5-2) and Laramie (8-1).
“Going into the tournament, the Casper game was going to be a challenge, we knew that,” said coach Johnson. “They’re a highly competitive team so we had to set our goals, be mentally prepared and be ready to play hockey.”
Rock Springs then got the better of the Ice Cats, winning 3-0 on Saturday, March 4. The teams had met twice before in the season prior to the tournament and Rock Springs had been victorious both of those times, too.
“We knew for sure that it was going to be a challenge, because they had won all their games in the season and so if anything we used Saturday’s game to see how the other team was going to play and then we could set our strategy for Sunday,” said Johnson.
The coach said this year’s team was determined and set a goal which they worked for and attained.
Asher, 16, has been playing hockey since the age of 4 and is a junior at Powell High School. She led the team in goals and assists and Johnson described her as the team’s strongest forward.
In addition, Asher “was a great leader of our younger girls,” the coach said.
The Park County Ice Cats consists of players from age 11 to 19.
“This team is probably one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played with, just because we always have so much fun when we play — which is a huge part of why we did so well throughout the season,” said Asher. “Everyone just got along so well and we had team traditions and before (each game) we would just make sure that we were going out to play a game that we love and have fun. And I think that’s what carried us through this season.”
One of the team’s traditions was to sing and dance to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” by Cyndi Lauper before every game, which helped to loosen the girls up for the game ahead.
This year, beyond the women’s team, Asher also played with the boys high school hockey team and the Wyoming state hockey team, Team Wyoming.
In the fall, Asher plays tennis. She’s also been to state drama the last two years and is a member of the theatre department at Powell High School, acting and singing in play, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” earlier this school year.
“Pretty much everything in my life revolves around theatre and hockey,” said Asher. “It’s kind of hard though to balance hockey and theatre.”
As for Pimentel, coach Johnson described her as the team’s workhorse.
“You could put her in any position if it were forward to defensive player and she worked her heart out the entire time she was out on the ice,” Johnson said.
Pimentel is a junior and has been playing hockey since the age of 4 — a total of 13 years — and said she enjoys getting to go places and the exercise.
As part of the Park County Ice Cats, the team travels around the state of Wyoming to play teams from Sheridan, Rock Springs, Casper, Douglas, Gillette, Jackson and Cheyenne.
Pimentel also plays tennis and is on the robotics team, which won the state championship this year. She also enjoys reading, art and math, with her favorite subjects being art and computer science.
Of Kolpitcke, Johnson said “She’s an amazing athlete and by far the best goalie in the state; we had a definite advantage with her in the net.”
During the state championship game, Kolpitcke saved 55 out of 57 shots.
“The number of shots is usually in the 20s or 30s — not 50s,” Kolpitcke said.
For the season, she saved 374 shots for a 95.2 percent save percentage and 1.27 goals against average. She also had four shutouts.
Kolpitcke, 15, is a freshman who’s been playing hockey for eight years; she also plays on Team Wyoming women’s team.
“I like the teamwork involved and getting to hang out with my friends,” Kolpitcke said of the sport.
She wants to play hockey in college and also plays soccer, runs cross country and enjoys reading.
Woodward, 15, is a freshman at Powell High School and has been playing hockey for three years.
“This being only her second year playing defense, she really came a long ways as a defensive player and worked really hard and was a great asset to our team,” said Johnson.
Woodward also barrel races, plays soccer and basketball and enjoys dance and gymnastics.
As for what she enjoys the most about playing hockey, Woodward cited “the teamwork, the bond that we have.”
For the four Powell players on the Park County Ice Cat team, a lot of time is devoted to the sport because the players have to drive back and forth to Cody each day for practice.
“We definitely put in a lot of time for hockey, but it’s worth it,” said Asher.
Of winning the championship, Pimentel said, “I thought it was the best one we’ve ever won just cause I didn’t think we were going to win.”
“It was really unexpected because that team (Rock Springs) was undefeated and we’d already lost to them three times that season,” added Kolpitcke, who described the game as nerve racking, but fun.
“It felt good for winning three years in a row,” said Woodward. “It’s exciting to know that we’re the only team that has done that.”
Asher added that “it’s been really cool to be able to do, because I don’t think that really happens all that often, just because new people are coming in and out of hockey every year.”
The four players wanted to thank their teammates, parents and coach Johnson.
“She pushed us so hard this season, and she does all the time, but she also focuses on having fun and loving the game — because that’s what it’s all about,” said Asher. “She’s really great.”