By Rob LaPlante
There will be no undefeated season for the North Wright County girls’ hockey team.
Winners of their first four games, the River Hawks suffered their first defeat at last Friday’s 10th annual Buffalo Turkey Shoot Tournament at Buffalo Civic Center.
Leading 4-2 on goals by senior’s Maddi Sjelin, Emily Achterkirch and a pair from Dani Sibley, the River Hawks allowed two third period goals and with six seconds left in overtime; Red Wing’s Emily Stegora gave the Wingers a 5-4 victory.
“We’re a little disappointed to get our first loss of the season, but you have to get it sometime,” said Sibley, on losing to last year’s Class A state runner-up team. “We knew we should have won. We outplayed them, but we learned from it and moved on.”
The Hawks outshot the Wingers 40-22, but late penalties figured to be the difference in the game. NWC took four minor penalties in the third period, leading to two Red Wing goals, including the game-tying goal with 31 second left in regulation.
“We took some penalties that were a long ways from our goaltender and we talked about playing a little bit smarter,” said head coach Jason Johnson, who saw his team allow three power play goals. “They converted on the power play and we didn’t score on ours. That was the difference in the game.”
With less than 24 hours to shake off the turkey hangover and their first loss of the season, the River Hawks took on a winless Little Falls-Brainerd team that previously lost 14-0 to Buffalo.
“It’s always hard to play after Thanksgiving, but it’s always fun playing in Buffalo,” said junior forward Kaleigh Hamann.
Much like the Bison, the River Hawks took advantage of a shorthanded Flying Warriors team that dressed only 14 skaters. NWC scored early and often en route to a 10-0 victory.
The River Hawks scored four first-period goals. Sibley – a usual contributor scored the game’s first goal and her third goal of the weekend. Some first time contributors followed Sibley’s goal. Sophomore’s Marina Chapman and Jade Ye each scored their first goals of the season in the first period.
“I love playing back-to-back games,” Johnson said. “It gives us a chance to forget what happened the night before and see how our team responds.”
Sibley later added her second of the game to give NWC a 4-0 edge into the first intermission. Shots after one period were a lopsided 20-2 in favor of NWC.
The tilted ice surface continued into the second period. Goals from senior Rachel Heiber and Achterkirch, extended the lead to 6-0. Again, the shots were lopsided, 17-2 in the middle stanza.
“You have to remember there are girls on the other side that have feelings too, so you don’t want to get it out of control,” said Hamann, who picked up three assists in the win. “We came prepared and I love skating with Heiber and Sibley.”
Heiber and Sibley lead the team each with seven goals this season. Hamann has a team-high eight assists and her nine points is tied for the team lead with her two linemates.
With the Mercy Rule in effect for the third period, it still didn’t stop NWC from scoring four more goals with the running time.
Sibley added her third goal of the game and fifth of the tournament that period. Sophomore Rachel King also scored and junior Mackenzie Johnson added her first of the season. The highlight came when freshman forward Greta Stanton scored her first career goal that gave the Hawks the 10-0 lead.
“It’s awesome to see the offense get spread around and see the depth show in a game like this,” Hamann said.
“I still remember my first career goal,” Sibley said. “To see these girls; freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors all score their first goals is a big deal and it’s exciting for all of us.”
The River Hawks (5-1 overall) next are in action this Thursday night when they take on Spring Lake Park (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Fogerty Arena in Blaine. Saturday at 3 p.m. they host undefeated Wayzata (4-0) at STMA Arena.