Blaine advances to take on Anoka in semifinals

by Samantha Lefebvre
Sports Writer

The Blaine girls’ hockey team advances to the second round of the Section 5AA tournament with a 4-3 overtime win against Centennial on Feb. 11 at the Roseville Ice Arena.

Down 3-1 in the third period, the Bengals found their rhythm and were able to score two more goals and force extra minutes at 3-3. A penalty shot against Blaine goalie Tara Hoverstad went sailing past the net thus giving the Bengals a chance to still win the game. With 1:32 left on the clock, Bengals forward Samantha Swanstrom scored the game winning goal with the assist from Kiersten Falck and Brittney Thunstrom.

Blaine's identical twin sisters Samantha (12) and Katie (22) Swanstrom pressure Centennial goalie Phaylen Meyer. The Bengals beat the Cougars 4-3 in overtime in the first round of Section 5AA playoffs. Photo by Samantha Lefebvre

“Two years ago we lost in double overtime in the quarters, last year we lost in four overtimes in the quarters and this year it is nice to get that monkey off our backs and finally get one,” Blaine coach Steve Guider said. “It was a good feeling of relief.”

The Bengals got off to a slow start in the first period to the Cougars who held a 2-0 lead until the last 12 seconds. Sophomore forward Samantha Swanstrom scored the first goal for Blaine off a power play with the assists from her identical twin sister Katie Swanstrom and Falck.

During the second period Blaine attempted to boost its offense, but came up empty handed against Centennial goalie Phaylen Meyer, who is ranked fifth in the state with a save percentage of .936. Although the Bengals out shot the Cougars in the second period, 15-10, they couldn’t quite show for it on the scoreboard and fell one point further from the Cougars, 3-1.

“We had too many mistakes again in the first two periods, which really put us in the hole,” Guider said. “We just challenged the kids on rising to the occasion and we told them ‘there is still 17 minutes left.’”

Down by two going in to the third period, Thunstrom was able to sneak the puck past Meyer within the first five minutes of play. Halfway through the period, Katie Swanstrom tied up the score at 3-3 with assists from Erin Harper and Falck. The Bengals battled back and forth with the Cougars during the last minute of play and in the end were able to hold them and force the game into overtime.

“We just outworked them in the third period,” Guider said. “Our kids really dug down and both teams were tired, but I think our kids found a little something in themselves and fortunately we were able to put a couple away.”

Overtime got off to a nail-biting start as a penalty was called on Hoverstad, which sent Centennial’s Kaitlyn Armstrong to take her penalty shot.

“Brittany Palmer and Brittney Thunstrom came out and talked to me and they were like ‘you got this’ and I was like ‘guys calm down I know I have this,’” Hoverstad said. “You know I could just feel it. And then she missed the net but still I was relieved.”

After that Hoverstad made two crucial saves, completely shutting out Centennial in overtime. Up on a power play, Samantha Swanstrom slid her second and final goal of the night in the net within the last 1:32 of overtime and advancing the Bengals to the semifinals with a 4-3 win over the Cougars.

“We battled our butts off,” Hoverstad said laughing. “Especially in the third period. That is when we really started bringing on all the pressure. I think Centennial started to break down because we were controlling the puck more the third period it seemed like.”

Hoverstad tallied 25 saves, including shutting out the Cougars during the third period and in overtime.

“She stood tall for us and we challenged her,” Guider said. “She came out big and stood tall on that penalty shot and never panicked. She was a pretty calm presence for us back there I thought.”

All four goals for the Bengals were scored off of power plays, which put them 4-10 on power play opportunities. The Bengals out shot the Cougars 46-28, and 8-2 in the third period alone. Samantha Swanstrom led the Bengals with two goals, while Falck put up three assists.

“It was a good feeling of relief,” Guider said. “We have unbelievable kids and we didn’t want this season to end.”

Blaine will take on number one seed Anoka in the semifinals Feb. 14 at the Roseville Ice Arena. Anoka beat Coon Rapids in the first round 6-2.

“I am super excited,” Hoverstad said. “We love playing Anoka, because it is always a really really intense competitive game and we always compete really hard against them. My best friend also plays for Anoka, so I just want to beat her so bad. But our team is ready for anything and we are ready to go to State.”