MISSOULA — It's the unknown that makes it extra exciting.

The Missoula Lady Bruins will make history Thursday as the first girls to represent Montana in the USA Hockey U19 National High School Championship at OBM Arena in suburban Cleveland. Missoula is one of six teams in the tournament.

"We want to be competitive and show the rest of the country that Montana has a serious hockey program," seventh-year coach Grace Hoene said.

"It's hard to say what it will be like because we haven't been before and we don't have anything to gauge it off of. We'll just see. It's fun to play teams we've never seen before."

Missoula will open pool play Thursday at 3:15 p.m. Mountain time against the Monarch Coyotes of Louisville, Colorado. The Lady Bruins will play Team Texas on Friday and Anchorage (Alaska) High School on Saturday. The semifinals are Saturday afternoon and the championship will be held at 6:30 a.m. Mountain time on Sunday.

The Lady Bruins haven't played a game in a month, so the challenge for Hoene has been keeping her team engaged in practice.  

"We've been trying to keep them fun and competitive," said the coach, who has led her team to three straight state titles. "It's a long season and we've been practicing since October. We want to keep it intense but not let them get too fatigued.

"The week after state (in early March), we kind of used it as a decompress week. We did a lot of their favorite drills and even turned on a little music. They all feed off that energy. The pop songs from artists like Ariana Grande."

Hoene is just as curious as anyone to find out how her team stacks up against teams from Colorado, Texas and Alaska. Consequently, she has tried to do a little research.

"I've talked to some of the tournament organizers and watched some of the games that are posted on Youtube from last year," she offered. "I can kind of get a sense of the game they play. I think we'll compete."

Missoula (21-11-2) will take 13 players, including two goalies. The list includes: Hellgate's Sid Triepke, Andi Carnes, Hanna Huang, Madeleine Heggen, Ellie Jenni, Waverly Winterer and Aubrey McKay; Sentinel's Dora McDougall, Jaden Nielsen, Maddy Gallagher and Shaye Ewing; and Big Sky's Pilar Seielstad and Natalie Herr.

All-state seniors Triepke (center) and Huang (defender) lead the team. Triepke has piled up 44 goals and 15 assists in 29 games. Ewing is second in scoring with 21 goals and 15 assists in 18 games.

The Lady Bruins have two solid goalies in McKay and Herr. McKay has allowed 40 goals in 18 games and has 268 saves. Herr has allowed 46 goals in 20 games and picked up 252 saves.

"Our offense has improved dramatically over the course of the year, as has our defense," Hoene said. 

Hoene, who played high school hockey in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Montana in 2013, wished to thank the community for supporting her team in its fundraising efforts.

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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