United girls hockey keeps underdog mentality as one of top teams in state
The top teams in North Dakota girls hockey are led by some of the top talent the state has to offer.
Fargo North-South is led by Bemidji State commit Graysen Myers, who led the state in goals and points as of last week. Three-time returning state champion Bismarck is led by Britta Curl, a University of Wisconsin commit, who helped the United States Women's National 18 and Under Hockey Team take gold at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championships in Russia earlier this month.
Meanwhile, West Fargo junior forward Madison Hjelden said her team doesn't have any college commits. Hjelden said the United felt like underdogs going into the season. She said no one believed in them.
Yet, the United are in a three-way tie for first place with 42 points in the statewide standings as of last week with North-South and Bismarck.
"They can look at us like we're not that good of a team," Hjelden said. "In reality, we're good."
Senior defenseman Mattyson Barta said the United, who were 13-5-1 overall and 11-3 in North Dakota games as of last week, said her team played even better than she expected. Barta said the United now believe they can win a state championship.
"We didn't expect to be in the position we're in," Barta said. "We worked hard and started to play well with each other."
But even when thinking about his team's success, one of the first things United head coach Pat Johnson talks about is West Fargo's loss at Fargo Davies last week. The United don't have the depth of other teams, Johnson said, which means they don't have much room for error.
"We can't make those silly mistakes and not show up," Johnson said. "We don't necessarily have the team with the best skill, but if you work really hard good things will happen. We won't out-skill people, but we can outwork people."
A game the United can hold onto is their 2-1 overtime win over Bismarck at home on Jan. 26. Trailing 1-0, United leading scorer Courtney Walsh scored with less than a minute left in regulation to tie the game. Elise Stromme scored on a power play less than a minute into overtime to give West Fargo the win.
Hjelden said the United never quit. She hopes the same goes for the rest of the season.
"It's not like it's been given to them," Johnson said. "They've had to earn where they're at."
Both Barta and Hjelden said West Fargo's win over North-South at home on Dec. 12 was a confidence builder that set the United up for the rest of the season. Barta said that win made the United realize they could compete with anybody. West Fargo also lost to both North-South and Bismarck this season, meaning a race for the No. 1 seed in the state tournament will come down to the very end of the regular season less than two weeks away.
"The tough thing," Hjelden said, "is just trying to win battles with them and being aggressive, winning every puck race and getting pucks to the net."
The United have hopes of a state championship, which would be West Fargo's third ever and first since 2014. When the United have outworked teams, Johnson preaches, good things have happened. But Johnson said the United still have work to be done and improvements to make.
"When we play the game we're supposed to, we can play with anybody," Johnson said. "But we have to show up."