by Jason Olson
Anoka came into its Section 5AA semifinal game as the top seed, while No. 5 seed Blaine looked inferior on paper, despite splitting the season series, of which were both one-goal games and one went into overtime.
Blaine emerged from another chapter in what has become a highly intense rivalry with a 3-1 win Feb. 14 to secure a spot in the section final.
The other section semifinal went to No. 3 seed Mounds, View who moved past No. 2 seed Andover 5-1 to set up a Mustangs/Bengals final.
The one thing Anoka coach Pete Hayes said they didn’t want to do against Blaine was to give up an early goal knowing the last seven meetings were decided by one goal.
“We had a defensive error and they put it in,” he said. “It gave them a lot of momentum. They worked hard and got some breaks and we didn’t and that’s the game of hockey.
“You’ve got to put away when you get your chances and we didn’t. They got a few chances and put their’s in.”
Bengals’ Sam Swanstrom scored 7:21 into the game which stood through the second period and minutes into the third period.
Blaine coach Steve Guider said the message heading into the third period was one of not holding onto a thin lead. “We were pushing to extend it and trying to get some breathing room because [Anoka’s] top line is very explosive,” he said.
The Bengals doubled their lead 2:16 into the third period. Kiersten Falck picked up her second assist as Brittney Thunstrom stood on the backside of the play to tap in the loose puck.
Anoka wasn’t done as Katie Johnson tapped in a rebound that bounced loose after an initial save on Chloe Knopp’s shot from the point. Teammate Emily Brigham tried to screen Blaine goalie Tara Hoverstad on the play and tangled with a Bengals defenseman before feeding Johnson the puck for the Tornadoes only goal.
Anoka nearly tied the game up when Blair Parent weaved her way through traffic and into the Blaine end of the rink before firing a wrister past Hoverstad’s extended glove, but off the goal post. “If we got that, all of a sudden its a 2-2 and a different game,” Hayes said.
Tarrah Callahan secured the win for Blaine when she scored in front of Anoka goalie Katie McLain in a crowded area with 3:39 left in the game.
Guider said the win was a solid team effort. He rotated his top two lines against Anoka’s top line of Katie Johnson, Emilie Brigham and Blair Parent, who accounted for 130 points.
“We felt confident that our top two lines had the ability to go against them,” he said.
And Guider said there were standout performances by the Bengals top three defensemen of Erin Harper, Alex Barber-Verdick and Abby Vogel to execute the game plan.
“They didn’t panic, did a good job in our zone of getting the puck out,” he said. “We let them get inside of us a few times, but they were able to recover. We still have a bit of work, but we’re very happy with them.”
Goalie Hoverstad did the rest to pounce on loose pucks and hold on to saves in her glove.
“We were definitely nervous heading in, but in a good way,” Hoverstad said. “[The defense] actually saved me on a couple of those plays.”
The teamwork on the ice was much better than a week before, she said.
“We were pulling for each other,” Hoverstad said. “We just have the mentality that we know we can make it all the way. We know we have what it takes to make it to state and win state.”
Blaine finished the regular season 2-4-0 before winning back-to-back section games and is one win away from a place in the Class AA state tournament.
Hoverstad has been working on making the routine saves, something Guider said was a way to challenge her. “She wasn’t playing well in a stretch of games, controlling rebounds but we worked on that,” he said. “It was basic stick movements and positioning.”
Andover vs. Mounds View
The second game of the evening featured Mounds View challenging the Andover defense and standout senior goalie Madison Denny early in the game.
The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead with 2:15 left in the first period on a goal from Katherine Larson. They doubled the lead midway through the second period before extending the lead to 3-0 with 16 seconds left in the second period.
Andover’s Paige Dale scored with 2:30 left in the game to erase the shutout.
“Madison stepped up to the plate like she has all year and unfortunately the rest of the team wasn’t ready at the start,” Andover coach Ben Monahan said. “We knew what they were going to do in the first period and they totally outworked us and unfortunately it continued in the second period.”
Monahan was impressed with the effort in the third period, but by that point the deficit was too deep.
The late goal in the second period seemed to hurt the psyche of the Huskies, Monahan said. Five goals was the most his team surrendered all season and combined that with a less-offensively potent squad, and hopes of a comeback were slim.
Despite the early end to the season than Andover hoped for, Monahan said the season was real success. “One thing this group did was gain respect of the other coaches and programs in our conference and section,” he said
Andover had won only its second-ever section game three nights earlier. “We have to smile for the good things we did this year,” Monahan said.