Girls' hockey is ready to take it outside

by Jason Olson
Sports Editor

It is hard to believe we’re already into the final handful of girls’ hockey games with just over a week left before sections and the road to the Xcel Energy Center starts to take shape.

Tuesday night we learned a few more things about the area girls’ pucksters.

In a meeting of the top two clubs in the Northwest Suburban Standings, Elk River/Zimmerman earned a 1-1 draw against a red-hot Anoka squad which is 16-0-2 over the last 18 games.

The Tornadoes, ranked No. 2 in the latest state coaches association poll, found themselves in an unusual position of being tied after regulation for second time in five games.

Anoka’s top line of Katie Johnson, left, Emilie Brigham and Blair Parent has the Tornadoes at the top of the NWSC standings. Photo by Bill Jones

Anoka coach Pete Hayes said the goal was to clinch its second conference title, but since they didn’t lose, title hopes remain alive with two conference games left (against North Metro and Andover).

“We didn’t lose and it keeps us a point ahead of [Elk River] with two [games] left, [Elk River] has three [games] left so we held serve,” he said as the Tornadoes won its lone conference title in 2003. Anoka has six state tournament appearances.

The Elks tied the game with three minutes left in the third period as Jonna Curtis and Abby Kratzke set up Jordan McLaughlin for the equalizer. Elk River came on strong in the third period, out shooting Anoka 15-6. They also held the shots advantage by a 4-3 total in overtime.

Anoka gained the early 1-0 lead as the top line continued to produce. Emilie Brigham scored her 17th goal and 50th point of the season with the assist going to Blair Parent who sits second on the team with 46 points.

Anoka started very strong, out shooting the Elks 10-3, but couldn’t solve the Elks goalie who was saved by the pipes three times.

Hayes noted the effort on the backside by goalie Katie McLain to find a way to win.

“She was very solid again with 31 saves,” Hayes said. “She’s the best goalie I’ve had since I’ve been here. She keeps us in the game and doesn’t lose. She’s solid and doesn’t get rattled.”

McLain came into the season with a 6-0-1 career record and is 20-1-2 this season for a career 26-1-3 mark for Anoka with a 1.51 goals against average, .941 saves percentage and three shutouts which should garner some post-season honors.

Anoka also got a taste of the stepped-up enforcement and penalty for dangerous play as the team had 15 minutes of penalties and killed its first five minute major.

Parent was penalized for a hit to the head. “You learn a lesson from that,” Hayes said about not only playing a skater short for five minutes, but also without its top scorer. [smooth=id:491]

Outdoor Classic primer
Blaine and Coon Rapids are prepared to head outside for the second edition of the rivalries outdoor game that started last January at Lake Phalen in St. Paul.

Coon Rapids won the overtime thriller 4-3 as Addie Rust knocked home a loose puck on the power play, 2:46 into overtime. The Cardinals outshot Blaine 35-11.

This season has gone quite differently for Coon Rapids which continue to struggle to finish its scoring chances. The Cardinals are the defending Section 5AA champion but lost seven of its last eight games and have six wins on the season.

Tuesday night the Cardinals lost at Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper 4-1. A scoreless first period gave way to three Robbinsdale goals including the first 71 seconds into the period.

“We’re struggling right now anytime we get behind,” Cardinals second-year coach Jessica Christopherson said. “We were down 1-0 and it just spiraled. We’ve got confidence issues right now. We’re getting chances and had one goal disallowed. Robbinsdale is a team with a lot of heart and they wanted it more than we did.

“It’s been a frustrating season but we need to find a way to break [the inability to finish scoring chances] and win some games. We’re competing, not winning.”

Sophomore forward Amy Schlagel is most likely done for the season after breaking her collarbone in the first meeting with Robbinsdale Dec. 13. Coon Rapids won that game 4-3 with a pair of third period goals.

Christopherson said Schlagel might return for sections, “but that’s no guarantee.”

Schlagel has seven points and is tied for fourth for the team points lead as Rust’s 14 points (10 assists) leads the way.

It has affected the team’s offensive production and more than anything has impacted the team mentally, a season after now-Gopher freshman Rachel Bona had more than 80 points. Coon Rapids might have lost Addie Rust to an injury Tuesday night.

“Amy’s been great on the bench and at practice. She’s coaching the kids on and off the ice,” Christopherson said.

Coon Rapids ran into Anoka Jan. 21 and as they’ve done all season, Anoka posted another big win, this time by a 4-0 score.

“We had to contain their top line because they’re individually skilled and we did a good job of keeping them to the outside,” she said.

Blair Parent finally penetrated the middle of the defense for a late goal but Anoka worked the puck behind the goal line for its other goals.

The mood after the game for the Cardinals was one of knowing they can compete with the best. Putting that action into work is the key now for the Cardinals.

“We’ve got three games left and we’re going to try to play spoiler a bit and reek havoc for the top teams in the section.”

Bengals hold on for wild win
Blaine coach Steve Guider knows his team can win. A 10-8 record isn’t the best indication of a strong team which lost back-to-back games against Andover (4-2, Jan. 17) and Centennial (3-0, Jan. 19). Blaine recorded a 5-3 win over Champlin Park Jan. 24 after entering the third period with a 4-1 lead.

“I thought it was a game which we controlled well. It was nice to finally start to put the puck in the net, but we gave up two power play goals,” Guider said.
Blaine produced more than 30 shots, but the quality of the shots weren’t the kind that would challenge a goalie.

“At times we played well but in the second period we got really sloppy on defense which led to quality scoring chances,” he said as they’ve averaged more than 60 shots per game over the last five games.

Generating chances haven’t been a problem for the Bengals. Finishing those chances is the problem.

“The number of pipes we’ve got are incredible,” he said.

Shooting drills and high-pressure shooting situations is about all Guider and the staff can do in practice. “If we spend less time working on our defensive-zone coverage in practice like we did, we give up three goals.”

Weighing the benefits has been a challenge for the staff. Illness has also played a role this season.

“We had 15 kids with the flu at one time and we tried to play through it,” he said during the week around the Andover game.

Guider said the message to the team has been: “When things are bad, they’re not that bad. When things are good, they’re not that good.

“They’re working their butt off, practices are great, great attitudes and it’s just not paying off right now. And compile that with some critical mistakes and that’s where we’re at. Against Centennial we mishandle a pass on the power play and they go in on a breakaway and score. It’s the unforced errors.”

Blaine won the first meeting with Champlin Park 3-0 as goalie Tara Hoverstad made two phenomenal saves to preserve the shutout, one of three for her on the season.