By Rob LaPlante
Crow River news sports
Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, the North Wright County girls’ hockey team all but sealed their fate as the No. 1 seed in Section 8AA.
With one section game remaining Feb. 2 against Moorhead, the River Hawks are 5-0 against section opponents and currently rank No. 13 in Class AA. As of Monday, they had a record of 17-4-1.
The only thing in the final two weeks not decided was the fate of the Mississippi 8 Conference. A key matchup Jan. 22 at Monticello against Buffalo would likely decide the winner.
The Hawks shutout the Bison 4-0 in their previous matchup at Buffalo and early on, looked to be cruising towards the conference title and a sweep – building an early 3-1 first-period lead.
Goals by senior captain Maddi Sjelin and freshman Greta Stanton just 13 seconds apart gave the Hawks an early 2-0 advantage. Buffalo cut the lead in half when sophomore Madi Jewell scored at 15:34 of period one, converting a breakaway on junior goalie Alex LaMere. NWC senior captain Dani Sibley scored her 27th goal of the year just a minute later and the Hawks enjoyed a 3-1 lead at the intermission.
“We lit up the girls a little bit,” said Buffalo head coach Ray Dahlof. “We had to pick up the tempo – do a better job of coverage in front. This was for the potential conference championship and the players responded with one of the best periods of the year in the second period.”
The Bison were sparked in the second period when senior captain Katie Rooney converted her 31st goal of the season on a goal mouth scramble. The game was tied at 13.47 when Allison Roethke scored from the point on a wicked slap shot that LaMere was screened on.
“It’s such a rivalry game and the emotions are so high,” said NWC head coach Jason Johnson. “When it got to 3-1, we maybe got a little too high. They’re a good hockey team and so are we. We ended up going to a third period and playing 17 minutes to see who was going to win.”
Momentum seemed to sway early in period three. Rooney scored her second of the game on a beautiful solo effort that came while a man down. It gave the Bison the decisive 4-3 lead.
The Hawks responded by firing 17 third-period shots on Buffalo senior goalie Lindsey Hartfiel, but Hartfiel stopped everything fired her way.
“I give Buffalo props. They battled hard to the very end,” said Sibley, whose 27 goals is second in the conference to Rooney’s 32. “Behind the scenes, Katie and I are pretty good friends. She’s a great girl – great competitor – I really liked skating against her in these games.”
Both captains will play college hockey next season, Sibley at UW-River Falls and Rooney at RPI. Rooney said after that she was both excited to tie the River Hawks in the standings and sad that her high school career is winding down.
“I don’t like that question,” Rooney chuckled, on what it’s like to match wits with the Hawks one final time. “It’s sad. We were talking about it before this game. They are probably our biggest rival and it’s always such a good game when we play them. It’s kind of surreal to have it end as a senior.”
The Hawks had no time to hang their heads. Two days later they had a key section showdown with River Lakes. Although they dominated play, outshooting the Stars 42-19, the game came down to the final buzzer.
Stanton opened the scoring in the second period, with assists to Sjelin and junior Emily Achterkirch. It was Sjelin’s 70th career assist, which added to her River Hawks career assist record she broke in an earlier game against Alexandria.
River Lakes tied the game with a shorthanded goal from Erin Porwoll, but with less than a second left in regulation time, sophomore Rachel King scored the game winner with Sibley and junior Maddi Young assisting.
The game featured four disallowed goals – all by the River Hawks. Johnson said it was a frustrating game to take part in.
“That’s the nature of sports,” Johnson said. “Once the official makes the call, you have to live with it and move on. It seemed like every play ended up in front of their net with a puck that was hard to find.”
The Hawks played Mound-Westonka on Tuesday (results unavailable). Friday they travel to Cambridge-Isanti and Saturday at 3 p.m. they close out the regular season schedule with a game against Moorhead at STMA Arena.