by Jason Olson
Mounds View completed its remarkable march to the Section 5AA girls’ hockey title when it held off a hard-charging Blaine (14-11) squad for a 5-4 win Feb. 17.
Mounds View capitalized on a checking from behind major and misconduct penalty assessed to Alex Barber-Verdick four minutes into the second period by scoring three times in a span of six minutes to break a close contest wide open by the midpoint in the contest.
Prior to the penalty, Blaine held a 2-1 lead and was turning the momentum of the game in its favor.
“It’s a huge swing and it’s unfortunate,” Blaine coach Steve Guider said, but he gave his team credit for not giving up. “They didn’t quit. We had some chances.”
The Mustangs were familiar with waiting out the opposition to make a move as they eliminated Irondale 4-3 in four overtimes in the section opener six days earlier.
Mounds View overcame a 3-1 hole with two goals in the second period of that game to force overtime.
Blaine’s route to the section final also included overtime in the quarterfinals when it topped Centennial 4-3 Feb. 11. The Bengals came back from 3-1 down with two goals in the third period. Sam Swanstrom continued her high level of play by scoring 6:31 into the overtime session. Blaine followed with a 3-1 win over top-seed Anoka Feb. 14 to set up its spot in the semifinals.
Friday night, Mounds View scored first, just 2:32 into the contest on a rebound put-back only to have Blaine respond nine seconds later when Barber-Verdick took a high slap-shot from inside the blue line that caught the bottom of Mounds View goalie Mary Dingman’s glove on its way into the net to make it 1-1.
Blaine’s defense came through many times in the first period, including Kiersten Falck and Erin Harper hustling back to tie up Mustang skaters on partial breakaways.
Blaine seemed to take over control of the game early in the second period when Swanstrom scored her first goal of the evening 2:43 into the period for a 2-1 lead before the Mustangs took over the section final.
Mustangs junior defenseman Lauren Klein tied the game with a power play shot that deflected off the glass behind the Bengals goal and hit someone before bouncing into the goal, then she scored another power play goal within three minutes before Maddie Peake made it 4-2 with an even-strength goal at the 10:44 mark of the period.
Swanstrom nearly brought Blaine back with two goals in a span of four minutes with the second coming at 13:14. Kiersten Falck assisted on both goals and sister Katie Swanstrom set up the first goal at 9:09.
Mounds View scored its final goal when a well-placed pass in front of the Bengals goal was redirected past Hoverstad to make it 5-3.
Down 5-3, Blaine had a goal waved off after the referees deemed a hand-pass infraction. The scoring chance came only seconds after Swanstrom pulled Blaine within one goal, 5-4, at 13:14 of the final period.
Despite doing all it could in the final minutes of the game, Blaine couldn’t solve the Mustangs defense once more. The Bengals took another untimely penalty with 57 seconds left.
Guider said he was disappointed to lose the game inside a Roseville Arena building that has become a house of horrors for the Bengals in recent years, but so proud to have coached this group of Blaine Bengals.
“They didn’t quit,” he said as both teams had chances to score even more. “They got just one more than we did.”
Blaine has lost three overtimes in the last three seasons at the Roseville Arena including a four overtime heartbreaker last season.
“There’s been a lot of heartache in this place but every year the kids have battled hard and wound up a goal short,” he said.
What made this Bengals team stand out from the rest was the way the seniors led the program.
“It seems like every year in girls’ hockey, there is some kind of problem where you need to call a team meeting but we had nothing like that,” Guider said. “Our kids got along so well, they talk about teams being a family and they just enjoyed each other and came to practice everyday and really pulled each other. That’s the saddest part of this – being done coaching this group of kids because I can’t imagine there will ever be a group like this again.”
The Bengals graduate a lot of their squad, including standout goalie Tara Hoverstad, forwards Thunstrom and Brittany Palmer and defenseman Harper.
They also return a lot of the squad, including their most productive line of Falck and the Swanstroms.
Falck led the section tournament scoring with eight assists and Swanstrom, a sophomore, had a team-high six goals. Brittney Thunstrom had four points (two goals) and Katie Swanstrom had three points (two assists).
Falck finished the year with 46 points (32 assists), while Sam Swanstrom had 41 points (30 goals) and Katie Swanstrom had 27 points (14 goals).
The Mustangs have Blaine ties as head coach Pete Aus took over the team in early December. Aus, the previous co-head coach of the Blaine boy’s program with son Dave, answered a call from Mounds View Activities Director Bob Madison back in December.
Aus, who turns 70 in May, is a staple in hockey coaching circles after his high school tenures in Richfield, Litchfield and Willmar. He retired in 2007 as Bethel’s career leader in wins after 13 seasons before spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach with Dave at Blaine.
“My biggest priority was bringing in some stability and wisdom and someone with coaching experience to the program,” Madison said. “We needed that leadership to guide us. We already had a good group of assistants on the staff and it really wasn’t about winning and losing, it was about giving the girls a quality experience.”
Madison played hockey with Dave Aus at Bethel and was hired on to Pete Aus’ staff at Bethel before taking the activities director position at Mounds View.
Aus took over the Mustangs program with a 5-2 record before winning eight straight games. He said the team set up for its section-winning run with the four-overtime game against Centennial. “I saw a huge difference in them between that first game I saw them play and [the Centennial overtime game,” Aus said.
Aus’ first time behind the Mounds View bench was a tricky ride when it trailed 3-0 after the first period.
“We came back into the locker room and I told them we needed to get one goal and we did that. We went on to tie it up late and won it in overtime,” he said about a 4-3 win over Park Cottage Grove Dec. 10.
The Mustangs won eight games in a row, six with Aus behind the bench.
“For me, what is it is to try to help these young girls become young women,” he said. “It’s not about hockey, the other stuff is more important and I told everyone, we’re going to treat these girls right and not yell at them and help them.”
Aus has helped ignite this team not only to a great record, but a section championship and a spot in the state tournament. This will be Aus’ first state tournament as a head coach, after going to state with the Blaine boys’ program in each of the previous three seasons.