2023 Girls State Hockey Tournament
Gentry Academy blocked out all the noise and raced to their first state championship
Sunday, February 26, 2023
On Saturday night at the X, after Gentry Academy won the AA state title with an impressive 4-1 victory over Andover, there was no Gentry pep band striking up the school rouser, no raucous student section with painted faces hamming it up for the TV cameras. No little girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys running up and down the aisles.
The post-game scene in the stands consisted mainly of the players’ parents and a few dozen classmates politely celebrating the coronation of their team as state champions. No doubt this had a different feel to it than other victory laps.
There are many skeptics of the Gentry Academy education model. A school attached to a hockey program, they say. Hockey practice during gym class, others bellow. Disgruntled east metro parents sending their kids to a hockey factory, dissatisfied with their suburban public schools and the politics of their local youth hockey association.
Gentry goaltender Zoe Laming, referred to as "the Mom" by her teammates, stopped 67 of 69 shots during the state tournament. Photo by Arnie Hamel
Say what you will about hockey programs passing our personally devised purity tests, but in the end, a group of highly skilled girls came together and captured a state championship, winning 27 of their 29 games this season. The shouts and tears of joy were every bit as genuine as state champions from any other year.
Recent articles have derided Gentry as unworthy of a place in the State High School League, and many coaches agree. Gentry actually had trouble filling out their schedule this season, with some coaches going on record as saying they refuse to play the Stars.
Thus, Gentry somehow got the Fort Frances, Ontario high school team to bus down late in the season and play a weekend doubleheader at the Gentry Academy home rink. The scores were 15-1 and 11-0. There was also an 11-1 pasting of Hudson, WI and a 14-0 beatdown of Red Wing, a struggling Class A program.
But the penetrating smile on the face of championship game hero Alexa Hanrahan muffled the cacophony of outrage over the school’s legitimacy – much like her first career hat trick muted the Huskies’ attempts at a repeat title.
“It feels amazing,” said Hanrahan. “All year we’ve been talking about the state championship game and winning state and that’s just what we’ve been looking forward to this whole season and working towards.”
Gentry's Cara Sajevic was named to the All-Tournament team and finished the season with a team-leading 35 goals and 77 points. Sajevic will play hockey next year at St. Thomas. Photo by Ge Lee
The worst-kept secret in high school sports today is that it appears everyone is working the system as much as they can get away with. As the late Canadien songwriter Gordon Downie once belted out: “Don’t read too much into what I ain’t denying.”
To some extent, recruiting players became part of the job long ago, and athlete transfers are undoubtedly in the works as you read this. This extends from Andover to Zimmerman, Pequot Lakes to Prior Lake.
So while the debate will continue – and possibly intensify – over whether Gentry is playing along by the rules that everyone else has to follow, maybe those who live in plexiglass penalty boxes should not throw stones.
For years, private schools have been plucking prized young players away from public school feeder programs that spent years coaching and training them. The Blake School, the top seed this year in Section 6AA, has no youth teams, nor even a JV squad. Recruitment of players to the affluent west metro prep school is simply a necessity – as it is for Benilde, Holy Family, Holy Angels and many others.
Public schools are by no means immune to this practice. Warroad, who beat Orono 3-1 for the Class A title, has Kate Johnson from East Grand Forks and Rylee Bartz from Fargo, ND. Orono has Kali Schmidt, who moved over this year from Delano.
And while some are outraged that Gentry Academy is taking good players away from Stillwater, Woodbury and White Bear Lake, isn’t that what Hill-Murray has been doing since forever?
The Stars shut down Andover's top line, including Isa Goettl (12), to win the school's first state title. Photo by Arnie Hamel
College sports now has the Transfer Portal, for better or worse. And, similarly, in this age of NIL agreements, open enrollment, and the quest for coveted college scholarships, the rules by which teams operate are bending, changing and evolving.
Meanwhile, the kids are just playing the game by the rules the adults have put in place.
It’s undeniable that Minnesota high school coaching staffs in many sports partake in rampant or subtle enticement of players, and carve out favorable conditions for high profile student-athletes. It's the not-so-new normal.
Gentry, a charter school in just its third year of existence, started in 2021 competing in Class A for one year, and now plays AA. They have made the state tournament in each of those years, winning it all in this their third season.
And while there may be something a touch hollow about Generic Academy winning it all, Billy Hengen and his players deserve to bask in their well-earned moment of glory as much as any team that reaches the high school hockey winner’s circle.
The Gentry Academy Stars are the Class AA state champs, fair and square. Or, as fair and as square as is currently possible.
Email Arnie Hamel at email@example.com
|8.||Centennial / SLP||7.800|
|10.||Benilde - St. Margaret's||7.704|