For the third year in a row, Coon Rapids and Blaine met outside in January to renew their girls’ hockey rivalry.
This year, the Outdoor Classic, as it is called, reached beyond the two hockey programs to help a greater cause as the Minnesota Warriors hockey club was the beneficiary of proceeds raised both from the game and events surrounding the game played outside the Coon Rapids Ice Center Jan. 12.
Coon Rapids won the game 5-3, despite being overwhelmed on paper by the Bengals roster (four Division 1 recruits) and statistics (four players with 30 or more points and Kiersten Falck’s 55 points) so far this season.
Blaine lost for the third time in four games (12-8-0 overall) and five goals against matched a season high (5-3 loss to Maple Grove Nov. 27).
Cardinals sophomore Bailey Ryan collected a hat trick and junior goalie Ali Weber posted 20 saves for the win in a very hard-fought contest.
“That was a huge [game] for [Ryan] and a huge win for our kids,” Coon Rapids coach Jessica Christopherson said. “They have quietly gone about their business all season long, they know that they have to earn everything they get and they know that no one expects us to win. They like that and they thrive on that.”
It was nice to pull out a close win after having so many close losses, especially outdoors against a rival, she said. “It was great to see them put this kind of effort together.”
The Cardinals have scored 16 goals over the last four games, winning three times.
That effort was apparent early on as the Cardinals outshot Blaine 11-7 in the first period and grabbed an early 1-0 lead when Ryan scored just 2:16 into the contest.
Teammate Britni DelCastillo made it 2-0 for the home team 46 seconds into the second period.
Less than two minutes later Blaine defenseman Amy Schlagel, who transferred from Coon Rapids after last season, scored twice to give her 15 goals and 30 points on the season in a span of 5:30 and tie the game at 2-2.
Blaine coach Steve Guider said the quick goals was the bright spot in an otherwise poor performance by the team.
“She had a lot of passion and the first goal was incredible,” he said. “She roofed the first one and we didn’t have enough of those big moments.
“Give credit to them for outworking us, but that is the biggest crime in athletics. It’s the one thing you can’t control – how hard you work.”
Ryan helped the Cardinals retake the lead for good with a power play goal at the 11:31 mark of the period. Katie Fredrickson assisted on both of Ryan’s goals, while Emily Tronson added an assist on the eventual game-winner.
Coon Rapids’ Heidi Hannula scored 7:19 into the final period on yet another power play chance, this time the assists went to Amber Ammann and Jane Hannula.
Blaine cut the lead to 4-3 at the 13:08 mark when Abby Vogel scored with help from Falck, who tallied her 36th assist of the season.
Ryan completed her hat trick with an empty-netter with 1:25 left in the game.
“Overall, I think we were able to frustrate them,” Christopherson said about the Cardinals game plan. “We don’t do anything fancy and we don’t have flashy players. But the kids we have are willing to do whatever it takes and they are starting to believe that they are capable of playing some pretty good hockey when they play to their ability. We are your typical lunch pail team – we just go hard and try to win the little battles.”
What impressed Christopherson the most was the way the Cardinals prepared for the game and executed that game plan, she said.
“People will say the conditions and the weather were a factor and maybe they were,” Christopherson said. “But we don’t make excuses for ourselves when we get beat, so we certainly aren’t going to take anything away from the effort they put forth in winning this game.”
Coon Rapids went 2-for-3 on the power play, while Blaine racked up 21 penalty minutes compared with Coon Rapids’ five minutes in the penalty box.
“The fact is we killed off a huge penalty and then stayed out of the box after that,” Christopherson said. “Their power play is so dangerous and we knew we had to keep them off the ice,”
Schlagel took a checking from behind major penalty with a 10-minute game misconduct penalty as time expired. It was the third and fourth penalties for Blaine inside the final 6:51 of the contest.
Guider described the Bengals’ season best when he categorized it as a roller coaster ride with hills and valleys. “To Coon Rapids’ credit, they worked harder than we did and I didn’t particularly care for the way we played and our effort level,” he said. “I think our girls were more concerned about being cold and you look over at the Coon Rapids bench and they’re all up on the bench. I know we got outworked.”
That surprised Guider who said the three days of practice leading up to the game were smooth after a rather sloppy first day of practice at the start of the week.
“They had great focus on moving the puck hard and once we got into the game it didn’t look like anything we worked on in practice,” he said.
Beyond frozen ponds
The outdoor game, which began with a memorable overtime game at Lake Phalen in January 2011 moved to the new Coon Rapids rink after it opened last season and the spectacle only grew in popularity this season as the Minnesota Warriors team was the beneficiary of game proceeds.
This was the first time organizers helped raise funds for another cause outside of either hockey program.
The final amount raised isn’t going to be known until after an online silent auction running through the Minnesota Girls’ Hockey Coaches Association website (mngirlshockeyhub.com) is completed Jan. 19.
Both teams sold game-specific merchandise and the Coon Rapids American Legion’s color guard was on the ice for pre-game ceremonies which included a ceremonial puck drop by the Warriors.
Items auctioned off include autographed hats and t-shirts from Blaine and St. Cloud State University graduate and Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, a signed Capitals Alex Ovechkin jersey and a Team USA Women’s jersey autographed by the current team.
Coaches association president Tim Morris made it a priority this season to help raise money for the Warriors through high school hockey games. Morris is an assistant coach on the Blaine staff after a very successful tenure leading the Eden Prairie varsity team.
“We talked about doing the game for charity and Tim was pushing to get an event to help out the Warriors from each team,” Guider said.
A handful of current Warriors players gathered on the ice for a pre-game ceremonial puck drop. Veteran and Warriors member Joe Scavo had the honors of dropping the puck between the Cardinals and Bengals captain.