The Simley Spartans roll into section playoffs behind dynamic forwards McGown, Tuccitto
Saturday, February 4, 2023
Fresh off a decisive 4-1 win on Jan. 27 over neighborhood rival South St. Paul, the Class A No. 2 Simley girls hockey team heads into section playoffs at 20-4-1 – the best regular season record in the history of the program.
After starting the season off 2-3-1, the Spartans won 18 of their final 19 regular season games, only falling 3-2 in OT to Class AA No. 2 Hill-Murray on Jan. 13. To many, it would seem the team is peaking at the right time, just before section playoffs, but head coach Tom Patnode said this season is “not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
“If we think about the destination, it (making the state tournament) won’t happen. It’s about the journey of what we learned day in and day out,” Patnode said. “It’s about what we do today that's going to have some impact and effect on tomorrow and the journey from October 31 to, hopefully, the end of February.”
The journey is looking good so far, as the Spartans have taken down some top-ranked teams in each class and finished atop the stacked Metro East Conference. One big reason why the team has been so successful is the senior duo of Ella Tuccitto and Mackaylan McGown.
Simley senior forward Ella Tuccitto enters section play with 37 goals on the season.
At regular season’s end, McGown is tied for first in assists state-wide (52) and is sixth in points with 68. Tuccitto ranks ninth in the state in goals (37) and sits just behind her teammate with 67 points.
The pair has played together since they were in U12 and have played on the same line throughout summer leagues and into high school.
“I don’t know why, but Mackaylan just keeps giving me the puck all the time,” Tuccitto said with a laugh. “I know where she is, and I know where she's going to play it to me. Then, I just have to find the back of the net.”
McGown echoed Tuccitto’s sentiment.
“I think I’m able to see the ice well,” McGown said. “I know where Ella is every single time and we just work well together.”
The pair will continue competing together even after high school, as both are committed to play Division III hockey at Concordia University-Wisconsin next fall.
Senior Mackaylan McGown is tied for the lead in the state with 52 assists.
“If I can summarize their game collectively, it’s dynamic, it’s fast, they have a lot of speed and they both have great hockey IQ,” Patnode said.
Patnode called McGown’s gameplay “unselfish” because of her willingness to share the puck. He also called Tuccitto “a natural goal-scorer” for her ability to find the back of the net.
“She is one of the purest skaters that I have ever been able to coach,” Patnode added.
Beyond the nearly unstoppable pair, the Spartans have a few more tricks up their sleeves. They have underclassmen power, strong defense and exceptional goaltending.
Junior forward Kelsi Ries is fourth on the team with 25 points.
Freshman forward Ella Sanders is second on the team in goals (21) and third on the team in points with 39. Sanders plays on the same line as Tuccitto and McGown, and Patnode said “it’s been exciting to watch” the two senior captains work with the up-and-comer.
Patnode described his team’s defense as “blue collar.”
“We defend hard, defend well, distribute the puck and get out of our zone,” Patnode said.
The team’s goaltender, sophomore Sydney Ries, has contributed greatly to the team’s current success. McGown even called her “by far one of the MVPs” of the team.
“She (Ries) plays a huge part in our defensive zone and covering pucks,” Tuccitto said.
Ries has three shutouts, 420 saves and a .913 save percentage on the season. She is third in the state in wins (16) and has a 1.92 goals against average.
McGown will try and lead the Spartans to their first-ever appearance at the state tournament.
As Simley’s regular season draws to a close, the Spartans have their eyes on the ultimate prize: a trip to the state tournament — a place the team has never been.
“We’re definitely going to be able to make it to state if we just keep grinding and putting the pedal down,” McGown said.
Tuccitto said that, over the past few years, she and her teammates have been in their heads in postseason games, causing them to lose in sections each year. This year, the seniors hope their team can overcome that and make it to the biggest stage in high school hockey. “I feel like everyone knows they play a big part. If they don't know, we tell them,” Tuccitto said.
Patnode agrees, and believes that the team’s culture will play a key role in its postseason chances. “No one person on our team is more important than another person,” Patnode said.
Helping with its strong team culture, Patnode said, is the team’s coaching staff: assistant coaches Steve Woog and James Kurowski, and goalie coach Alex Cimochowski.
“We have a coaching staff that is, in my opinion, second to none,” Patnode said.
According to Patnode, every person has a role on the team, and that role changes as each game progresses. “No one person on our team is more important than another person,” Patnode said. “It's fun, and it's exciting to see the kids embrace it.”
“Everyone has their role. If they play it, then we win,” McGown said.
Cam Kauffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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|3.||South St. Paul||7.533|
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|6.||Mound Westonka / SWC||7.111|