DELANO – “Probably the best year of my life.”
Those were the words uttered by Delano senior Mary Beth Kivisto just minutes after her high school hockey career came to an end. Although the Delano girls hockey team came up just short in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the New Ulm Eagles in double overtime Thursday night, what they accomplished this season can’t be taken away.
“Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted, but at the end of it to be down 2-0 and to battle back was huge,” Tigers coach Jackie Johnson said. “I thought the first period we didn’t play very well. It just wasn’t up to our expectations. We were able to get it together and come back. We did the little things but just came up short and one team has got to lose.”
“It wasn’t perfect,” Kivisto said about her final season. “It wasn’t the best result, but it’s probably my favorite year that I got to play with my friends. Everything was just hockey-centered.”
After a sluggish first period by the Tigers, New Ulm extended their lead to 2-0 with a goal by Maddi O’Connor just nine seconds into the period. Instead of panic setting in for Delano down a pair, they fought back.
Eighth-grader Kali Schmidt cut the deficit in half on a goal assisted by Kivisto and Sydney Stansberry. Later in third in the third, it was Schmidt who delivered again. Down a goal, Schmidt found herself alone on a breakaway after a pass from Kivisto. She made her move and found the back of the net, tying things up for the Tigers at two.
“That kid is a workhorse,” Johnson said about Schmidt. “She’s the one who’s going to bring her stick home every day and shoot pucks. She wants to be elite. It showed this year for sure. Just how hard she works. To step up as an eighth-grader and bring your team back, it’s unreal.”
Neither team could find the game-winner in regulation or the first overtime. In the second overtime, it was New Ulm that snuck the game-winner just one minute and 54 seconds into the second overtime to keep their season alive with a 3-2 win.
“We just play hard to the end,” Kivisto said. “For us seniors, this wasn’t what we wanted. I’m very proud of these girls and how we just kept fighting and playing. We did it to the end.”
Kivisto is one of five seniors on this year’s team for Delano along with Stansberry, Taylor Michael, Kylee Heinzen, and Claudia Schmidt. While their careers have come to an end with Delano, there’s a lot the younger players returning can learn from them this season.
“The seniors have been part of the program where we were either in the semifinals or section title game every year,” Johnson said. “That’s a feat in itself, but I told the younger girls to remember this. This is why you work so hard in the offseason. We have an exciting future that’s for sure.”
As the five Delano seniors move on, they have one simple message for their teammates who will return next year.
“I just hope they come every day ready to play and have fun,” Kivisto said. “Just play your hearts out every day.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports