Defense sparks River Hawks to key M-8 conference win
By Rob LaPlante
The North Wright County girls’ hockey team has a reputation for burying pucks into opposing team’s nets. Last week, a pair of shutout wins proved the River Hawks are more than a one dimensional team.
An early season conference showdown last Thursday ended with a 4-0 River Hawks victory at Mississippi 8 rival Buffalo.
The Bison came into the contest undefeated (5-0) and ranked No. 12 in last week’s Class AA poll.
First-year head coach Jason Johnson said he is new to the Buffalo-NWC rivalry, but already can see the competitive spirit. “I’m still getting to know the girls side, but you can see the great rivalry between the two teams,” he said.
NWC went 1-0-1 last season with the Bison and the win Thursday meant the traveling Wright County Cup, awarded to the winner of each game between the two teams is staying with the River Hawks.
“It’s amazing, because the 4-0 score was the biggest margin of victory between the two teams,” Johnson said. “We had a great effort in goal and were able to match our top two lines with theirs and I thought our ‘Red Line’ had a great game.”
Freshman Greta Stanton, senior Maddi Sjelin and sophomore Rachel King make up the “Red Line.” Stanton scored her second goal of the season as part of a three-goal third period that secured the win.
It was their line as well as senior’s Dani Sibley, Rachel Heiber and junior Kaleigh Hamann’s line that was responsible for shutting down Buffalo’s all-conference forward Katie Rooney.
Sibley opened the scoring in the first period, notching her 12th goal in nine games. Rooney’s 10 goals are second in the M-8 behind Sibley.
“Katie had a couple breakaways in the game that Alex made a couple big saves on,” Johnson said. “It’s not too often Rooney gets shutout in points, so we were fortunate.”
Hamann assisted on the opening goal and later scored two of her own, lifting her total to four on the season and her 16 points ranks second behind Sibley’s 18.
LaMere made all 29 saves in collecting her fourth shutout in nine starts. Senior goaltender Dayna Duncan provided the other shutout earlier in the week when the Hawks won a 3-0 tilt with St. Cloud last Tuesday at Moose Sherritt Ice Arena.
Of the team’s seven wins, five have come of the shutout variety. “We want to trademark our team on how we play defensively,” Johnson said. “It starts from the goaltender on out. You have to be strong defensively and the girls understand the general philosophy of playing good defense in order to be successful.”
Duncan only needed to record seven saves in the win and if not for a heroic effort in goal from St. Cloud’s Lucy Gaetz, the Hawks would have easily padded their offensive stats as they outshot the Icebreakers 59-7 in the game.
“I wasn’t able to attend, but I heard their goalie played a heck of a game,” said Johnson, who was absent to attend the funeral for his grandfather. “We got a lot of pucks on net. Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t fall.”
Junior Mackenzie Johnson opened the scoring in the first period and Sibley and sophomore defenseman Marina Chapman added later goals.
The Hawks (1-0, 7-2 overall) hosted conference rival Rogers, Tuesday at Monticello. This weekend they head to the Iron Range, Friday night at Roseau and Saturday afternoon at Thief River Falls.