Lauren O’Hara did not tally a point in Centennial/Spring Lake Park’s 2-1 upset victory over Maple Grove in the Class 2A, Section 5 final.
And yet, Cougars coach Sean Molin noted, the senior forward was the reason Centennial won that game.
“She has to shut down the other team’s top players. She’s blocking shots. She’s pretty much doing everything for the team,” Molin said. “You usually would give the stars of the game to the ones with the goals, the assists, or the goalie. But for those who know hockey, you could definitely watch the game and know that was what’s happening. It’s not as common to recognize that.”
But there is little that’s common about a player of O’Hara’s impact.
The 5-foot-11 forward is a rare combination of size and skill. Her offensive ability flashes often. The Gophers commit carries 35 goals and 20 assists — accounting for 51 percent of her team’s scoring — into the Cougars’ Class 2A state quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Minnetonka at 6 p.m. Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. But just as relevant are her defensive abilities.
O’Hara describes herself as, and prides herself on being, a “200-foot player.” Which is the primary reason she is the Pioneer Press’ 2023 East Metro girls Hockey Player of the Year.
“You won’t have a lot of players as big as her — she’s tall and has a reach — but she also is really skilled and has a really good shot and a really good finishing ability,” Molin said. “She’s able to do things out there just because of her size and her skill. The combination of those things is kind of a unique quality.
“Then just the intangibles of her work ethic and team play and her hockey IQ. She knows when to do certain things and how to set people up and score. So, she’s really the complete package.”
That’s the result, O’Hara noted, of hard work. She grew up playing the sport with her father and brothers, and savored the experiences messing around on the outdoor rink. She has known since middle school that this was what she wanted to do, and put in the work to reach her goals.
That type of focus and intention permeates throughout the Cougars’ roster. Centennial/Spring Lake Park entered the season with the goal of topping Maple Grove to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2021, when the Cougars won the section tournament but had to sit out their state quarterfinal after a player on the team logged a positive COVID-19 test. O’Hara and her senior teammates were sophomores on that squad.
But getting back to St. Paul this season was a tall task. The Cougars have a young roster. The list of their top 10 point-getters includes just three seniors, and also includes a freshman and two eighth-graders.
Someone had to set an example for such a young group. Who better than O’Hara? The senior is most proud of the way she’s led her team this winter.
“I feel like I’ve been a good leader for this group,” she said. “We knew coming in that we wanted to go to state and beat Maple Grove in that final, so I took a lot of pride in that, just leading this team to a state tournament.”
O’Hara helped inspire a culture centered on working hard and caring for one another.
“I’ve coached for a while now and I don’t know how you can do it another way if your best player isn’t your hardest worker, doesn’t have a great attitude, because everything flows down hill,” Molin said. “It’s hard to get everybody else to buy in if they’re not doing the right things themselves. So, that’s why this year flowed so well. It makes our job easier if she’s there to model the things we’re trying to do. We have a lot of younger players and they really look up to her and kind of follow her lead.”
Molin said that impact has meant more to the Cougars than anything O’Hara could do on the ice. Not only has she keyed this young team’s ascension, she has helped lay the foundation for the program’s future.
“I don’t think we could do that without her. It’s been an amazing ride. It’s very similar to two years ago, and it’s kind of a nice resolution, because we weren’t able to play,” Molin said. “So, that’s part of the reason we were fighting for it so hard.”
Chloe Boreen, junior forward, Hill-Murray: Versatile offensive weapon is armed with skill and an impressive shot. Finished with 40 goals and 22 assists.
Ellah Hause, senior defender, Hill-Murray: St. Thomas commit notched 19 goals and 25 assists as a senior. Dominant defender. Ms. Hockey finalist.
Josie Lang, junior defender, Stillwater: Providence commit tallied 14 goals and 19 assists from the blue line while guiding the Ponies to an undefeated conference record.
Marie Moran, senior defender, Apple Valley: St. Cloud State commit finished with 22 goals and 35 assists, which would be high-level offensive numbers for a forward.
Cara Sajevic, senior forward, Gentry Academy: St. Thomas commit is Gentry’s all-time leading scorer. Currently touts 31 goals and 37 assists this season.