Devils Lake girls hockey sneaks in game before winter sports pause
At 10:00 p.m. Friday, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum issued an executive order taking action against the spread of COVID-19 in the state. One of the mandates put in place by the executive order was the postponement of winter sports until Dec. 14.
Basketball, hockey, and wrestling teams around the state had just started practices, let alone begun playing games. A lot of teams around the Lake Region will remain benched for another month, postponing their first competitions. Except for one team.
11 hours and 45 minutes after Burgum's order went into action, Devils Lake girls hockey was able to sneak in a scheduled scrimmage against Fargo North-South, allowing the Firebirds to take the ice as a team in a game-like situation.
"I told the girls that it was just a scrimmage, so we were going to use it as practice," Firebirds head coach Rob McIvor said. "Everyone was going to play regardless. The score didn't matter at all. I just wanted to see where people were positioning themselves on the ice and how well we were going to play offensively and defensively."
While the result wasn't one that the Firebirds had hoped for, falling to the Spruins 22-2, Devils Lake heavily benefited from the matchup. In bringing in a younger core, the Firebirds got a feel on the ice where they can improve before heading into the regular season. A lot of teams around the state had minimal practices to see where they were at before the postponement was called.
McIvor said the video live stream also gives the team an advantage heading into the pause and they can breakdown the game from a distance. Also, the Firebirds benefitted from facing a high caliber team in Fargo North-South out of the gate.
"North-South has a good team," McIvor said. "They got some kids back from Burggraf AAA team last year and still retained a bunch of kids from last year. They have a Division I recruit out there that was very good. She skated around quite handily and did well against our second and third lines."
With the younger Firebird core learning a new pace of the game, the veteran players produced for the team. Senior goaltender Molly Black split time, playing the bulk of the first period to make 32 saves on 35 shots. While Black did begin to get tired in her second start on the ice in the second half of the game, McIvor said her performance was great to see early on in the season.
"She played really well and I told her that," McIvor said. "She started to get tired in the second half, but she was very sharp right away for that whole first period. I told her that everyone was going to play, and it was a matter of when you wanted to play. She wanted to take the first major chunk of each period."
While Black stood tall in her time on the ice, two of the Firebirds veterans in senior forward Hannah Houle and freshman forward Ashlyn Abrahamson converted for Devils Lake. Houle would score late in the first half off a pass from senior Madisyn White to cut the Spruins lead to 5-1. Abrahamson would steal a pass from the top of the circle and drive in to score to make the score 7-2.
McIvor is looking to Abrahamson and Houle to charge the Firebirds on offense this season, filling the holes of those who graduated along with moving the younger core along. Abrahamson was apart of the group of Devils Lake players that finished in the top 15 in scoring in the state.
"Ash is on the first line and she played for team North Dakota and Hannah has played a lot during the summertime," McIvor said. "They're going to be counted on a lot to score some goals and play on a number of power-play and penalty kill situations."
As for the younger group on the ice, those who are new to the Firebirds roster are still getting adjusted to a new pace of play. McIvor said he was impressed by Saturday's effort and is a good place to start developing from.
"A lot of those girls are still learning how to play hockey, so there was a little bit of mispositioning in our zone and miss communication between defensive partners, defensemen, and centermen," McIvor said. "However, I was quite happy with what I saw in terms of effort. If that effort is sustained for the rest of the year, we'll be alright towards the end of the year."
Defensive communication is something that stood out to the coaching staff and needs some work, but there isn't any concern about the Firebirds' ability to execute their defensive cycle on the ice. Even in the younger group, McIvor said there is still good movement between defensive partners, and more reps are just needed in practice and in games to clean up the communication.
There were a lot of good things the Firebirds saw on Saturday and are making an effort to maintain those high points over the quarantine. The news of postponement didn't sit too well with Devils Lake, specifically the seniors who had to deal with postponement last season. However, the Firebirds are looking forward to the opportunity to hit the ice again and make up most of the season.
For now, the team is working as much as they can with film and virtual conferencing. Unlike most teams, Devils Lake now has a game from this season to analyze and can do it with video. Firebird fingers are also crossed that the temperature will drop, so players can skate and practice outdoor.
"We just have to keep them engaged," McIvor said. "Make sure they're doing some form of work every day. If they don't do something, we're not going to come out of the gate on fire. They just need to make sure they're getting their exercise in. It is nice if they can get some form of skating in, but I don't know what the parameters are going to be yet."