Last season Blaine’s inability to score in the Section 5AA opener spelled the end of an otherwise successful 17-win season. The Bengal girls finished second in the competitive Northwest Suburban Conference at 13-5.
With four NCAA Division I prospects, Blaine was 1-1, struggling to score on two of the best goalies in the state (Robbinsdale’s Ashley Ritten and Andover’s Maddie Rooney) through the first week of the season.
Despite outshooting Armstrong/Cooper 42-33, Bengal freshman Paige Beebe’s second period goal was the lone score in a 2-1 overtime loss at Fogerty Arena in Blaine Nov. 12.
The Bengals recovered with a 3-2 win at growing rival Andover four days later. The win was a big early-season confidence boost for Blaine.
The Bengals outshot Andover 35-24 keyed by freshman Emily Brown’s winning goal at 8:52 of the final period, set up by Sam Swanstrom and Kiersten Falck.
Blaine built a 2-0 lead less than 3:10 into the contest on goals from Amy Schlagel and Falck 14 seconds apart.
The success continued Nov. 19 with 4-1 win over Elk River/Zimmerman on teacher appreciation night at Fogerty Arena.
Bengals coach Steve Guider said consistent play for three periods was missing through the first week of the season, but everything came together against the Elks.
“We played good first periods the first two games and lapsed in the second, then we would come back in the third,” he said. “We still made some mistakes, but the energy we played with was really good. The kids competed hard and we did a lot of good things.”
The work effort has been there from the start but the rewards hadn’t emerged, Guider said.
“It’s a matter of getting the ball rolling on the goal scoring,” he said. “We’ve had chances but they just need to relax.”
Katie Swanstrom, Sam’s twin sister, scored her first goals of the season and narrowly missed a hat trick, but Elks goalie Jessica Edwards stuck her left leg pad out to make the stop at 4:35 of the first period.
Blaine took control of the game in the second period to score twice on seven shots and held the Elks just one shot on goal in the period.
Beebe scored her second goal of the season at the 13:08 mark of the second period on a wrister to make it 1-0 in a replication of a practice drill the day before.
“We talked about transferring drills in practice to the game so when I came into the locker room after the period I said, ‘Now that’s what I mean by transferring the drills,” Guider said.
What separates Beebe from the other contributing freshmen is her sheer size to compete at the varsity level, he said. “Those kids, maturity-wise are able to find themselves right away,” Guider said.
Beebe is paired with senior Amy Schlagel, who jumped from the blue line, and Sam Swanstrom on the Bengals 1B line. The other top line has Falck, Katie Swanstrom and Breanna Mahoney.
Forty-four seconds after Beebe scored Katie Swanstrom connected on a one-timer set up by Falck and Sam Swanstrom to make it 2-0.
For her second goal, Katie Swanstrom kept after a loose puck around the Elks goal crease and on a second rebound attempt beat the Elks netminder to make it 3-0, 4:02 into the third period.
Bengals junior goalie Mikayla Tilton made 17 saves to lower her season goals against average to 1.59 and a .993 save percentage.
She gave up a third period power play goal at the 9:38 mark that began as a scrum in front of the goal.
Schlagel wove around the Elk River goalie on a partial breakaway for the final goal of the game with 8:16 left in the contest.
She joined the Bengals blue line last season after transferring from Coon Rapids. Now she’s part of the forwards, given the defensive depth.
“It’s impressive,” Guider said. “These kids aren’t giving up on anything. We have kids out 15-20 minutes on the ice before practice.”
Katie Swanstrom credits the atmosphere around the team, an influx of younger players and less selfish play over last season as reasons for the 2-1 start. “We have way more freshmen this year, which I think is a good thing,” she said. “Because we can work more as a team.”
With three months before sections, Katie Swanstrom said the consistency will be key. “In past years we win a game, lose a game. We just need to be on our game, every game,” she said.
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