Patrick Reusse
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This is being based on general observation and not expert analysis on the subject, but here it is: No sport in the 50 years since Title IX started to open scholastic competition to women has improved as much in a relatively short period of time as has girls and women's hockey.

The first girls high school game in Minnesota was played on Nov. 19, 1994 — South St. Paul vs. Holy Angels — and two decades after girls basketball had state tournaments.

I watched a game now and then. Covered the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and watched our legends, Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell, drop a 3-2 heartbreaker to Canada (almost always Canada-U.S.) in the gold medal game.

That was fun, but other glances at girls hockey … well, the puck seemed to take quite a beating on more trips up and down the ice than not.

Edina, tremendous boosters of hockey in all categories, started sponsoring a girls holiday tournament in 2008. The goal was to invite the best teams that were willing to show up.

The tournament is now the Walser Invitational. It was being held for the 14th time and the eight-team field had five of the top-ranked seven in Class 2A.

And what spectators were watching, with the skill, speed, puck movement and even feistiness, could not have borne great resemblance to what was on display when Minnesota's hockey elite first assembled at Braemar in '08.

Andover and Minnetonka were set up in the upper bracket to renew their rivalry. This required these Monday results: Minnetonka, 3-2 vs. talented Maple Grove, and Andover, 7-0, vs. overmatched Moorhead.

So, there they were again: Andover, a one-goal winner early this season and in the 2022 state title game, vs. Minnetonka.

These are two programs that have done well in the transfer portal, which in public school hockey is the family moving to a new district.

Andover also won the state title in 2020, with Peyton Hemp as one of its stars. Hemp is now a sophomore forward with the Gophers. And two younger Hemp sisters, senior defender Josie and sophomore goalie Layla, are now with Minnetonka.

Asked about this in a phone interview Monday, Andover coach Melissa Volk said: "It must have been a good family move for them. I just coach my players.''

In total, Andover went into Tuesday with a six-game winning streak against Minnetonka, rather amazing when considering the Skippers' talent level.

The Gophers have five Minnesotans in the 2023-24 recruiting class and three are playing with Minnetonka: Josie Hemp, forward Ava Lindsay and defender Elly Klepinger. There's one Andover recruit in the group: Isa Goettl, a pocket rocket-type forward.

More impressive for Minnetonka: USA Hockey has a 23-player roster heading to Sweden for the Under-18 Women's World Championship (Jan. 8-16), and five were on the ice for Minnetonka on Tuesday.

Layla Hemp is among three Team USA goalies, as is Maple Grove's Dani Strom. Other Skippers on the team include Klepinger and forwards Lindsay, Lindzi Avar and Kendra Distad. Defender Cailin Mumm represents Andover.

The Huskies jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first 5 ½ minutes on Tuesday. The goals came from sophomore Maya Engler and junior Nora Sauer.

Andover kept dominating — the shots were 16-5 in the first period — but sophomore Ruby Rauk got the Skippers within 2-1 late in the first period, then she tied it early in the second period.

Josie Hemp set up another sophomore, Lauren Mack, for a Skippers' 3-2 lead in the final minute of the second period.

Andover had a big chance to go away in the third, when Minnetonka was put on a two-skater power play. Somehow, with all those Skippers' stars, the Huskies killed it off.

How does your club hang in against that talent?

"We put such an emphasis into giving full effort on every shift … that's one reason,'' Volk said Monday. "And we have talent, too. I'm not complaining.''

Andover pulled goalie Courtney Stagman in the final 90 seconds and Distad scored almost immediately to lock up a 4-2 victory.

The streak was over, as the Skippers jumped in jubilation on goalie Layla Hemp. There's a title game on Wednesday night, and after that for five of them (and Andover's Mumm):

Canada, if history holds, in far-away Ostersund, in northern Sweden.

Peyton Hemp was in attendance, watching her sisters vs. her alma mater, and issued this warning:

"It's going to be very tough over there. Canada's talent this time is tremendous.''