Coon Rapids snapped a string of seven winless games with a 6-1 rout of Cambridge-Isanti in the seventh-place game at the Cardinal Cup Dec. 28.
The first win of December came on the second outdoor game on as many days outside the Cardinals home rink at the Coon Rapids Ice Center.
Coon Rapids junior Whitney Greig completed a hat trick 3:34 into the second period, doubling her season goals total along the way. Sophomore teammate Lily Hackett continued to generate scoring with a five-point game (two goals, three assists). She finished the three-game tourney with eight points (four goals) to give her a team-high 13 points.
Greig opened the scoring at the 9:39 mark of the first period. Hackett added a power play goal at 15:27 and Greig scored again with seven seconds left in the opening period for a 3-0 lead. It was only fitting that Hackett set up Greig 3:34 into the second period to complete the hat trick.
After the Bluejackets scored on the power play, Coon Rapids senior Britni DelCastillo made it 5-1 with a goal in the final 1:05 of the middle period, set up by Bailey Ryan. Hackett added a late third period goal with an assist from senior captain Heidi Hannula at 14:18 to make it 6-1.
One day earlier, the Duluth Northern Stars stayed one step ahead of Coon Rapids in a 5-3 win, sparked by a 3-2 opening period in which all five goals were scored in a span of 4:05 in the late stages of the period.
Ryan opened the scoring for Coon Rapids at 8:22 of the game, punching home the loose puck near the goal crease.
The Cardinals held the edge in possession, but Duluth capitalized on miscues despite being outshot by a 12-7 margin. The Stars held the shots edge for the game 24-23.
Duluth responded with back-to-back goals, 18 seconds apart, the first on a breakaway from Alexia Klaas and the second on a two-on-none defensive breakdown by the Cardinals. Klaas unselfishly fed teammate Christina Enright on a one-timer goal.
Just over two minutes later, Greig tipped in a power play shot for the Cardinals from Heidi Hannula. Allie Stalboerger set up the play.
Duluth’s Brionna Stafne made it 3-2 one minute later on a one-timer from Callie Kunst, then scored the lone goal in the second period and set up the Stars final score at the 11:26 mark of the third period to make it 5-2.
Coon Rapids had chances to cut the lead, but Madison Blomquist’s goal at 13:30 was the only reward for the home team.
Coach Jessica Christopherson said the team wasn’t playing like a two-win team against Duluth.
“There are some things we do really well; our skating, intensity, the way we compete and we just haven’t been doing that very well for whatever reason,” Christopherson said.
“It’s the same story every night for our squad. We battle but come up short and it’s getting frustrating.”
Scoring has been a struggle all season, looking at a minus-30 goal differential.
Of the 24 goals scored, 12 have come in the third period, while the team has generated only six goals in each of the first two periods.
Christopherson said the third period is a result of a sense of urgency. “We always battle well in the third period, but we’re always, always coming from behind,” she said.
Friday night the Cardinals were down 3-0 against Owatonna going into the third period, but a pair of goals from Hackett 3:07 made it a one-goal game in the Cardinal Cup opener.
Aside from the goal scoring, Coon Rapids has managed to stay out of the penalty box. While the coach would rather not play shorthanded, Christopherson said she would like to see the team be more physical and compete for the puck more.
“Sometimes taking penalties comes with going hard and being in the corners and trying to win battles,” she said. “I’d like to see us playing with a little more grit.
“We’re a small team and probably undersized and that’s where that grit comes from practice and bringing that intensity everyday at practice instead of just crunch time.”
Coon Rapids outshot North Metro 41-12 in the first win of the season, 3-0, Nov. 19.
Two games later the Cardinals settled for a 1-1 draw after Anoka scored late in what Christopherson said felt like a loss because of the lead that slipped away. Two weeks later Coon Rapids found itself down 2-0 after the first period at Centennial, but outscored the Cougars 3-1 over the final two periods to earn the tie.
“And that one almost felt like a win,” she said. “It’s just the way the game went. There are things to build.”
The Cardinals have nine games left, all against a Northwest Suburban Conference opponent, starting with Maple Grove (7-5-2) Jan. 4 and return home against North Metro (1-13-0) Jan. 7. They finish the regular season with four straight home games against Robbinsdale, Blake, Elk River and Centennial. Toss in road games at Blaine (13-2-2) and Anoka (6-8-1) Jan. 11 and 14, respectively, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the young Cardinals.
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