By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
For the section playoffs, the state high school league adds goal judges behind each net. The judge sitting behind North Wright County junior goalie Alex LaMere could have fallen asleep and still did his job to perfection.
The River Hawks stamped their ticket to the 2013 girl’s hockey state tournament at Xcel Energy Center after defeating Moorhead 4-0 in the Section 8AA championship game Feb. 15 at Bernick’s Arena in Sartell. In the process, the River Hawks swept through section play not allowing a single goal in the three games.
LaMere senior goalie Dayna Duncan combined for an 8-0 shutout over Brainerd/Little Falls in the quarterfinal round. It was LaMere continuing her stellar play in a 3-0 shutout win Feb. 12 over Bemidji – a game in which she stopped 33 shots for her sixth shutout of the season.
It appeared the Hawks were on their way to another easy win. Sophomore forward Rachel King and junior forward Anne Marie Harald gave NWC a 2-0 lead, just 1:22 into the contest.
What looked like a potential blowout, turned into a close hockey game and the Lumberjacks – outshot 15-5 in the first period – came back strong in period two, outshooting the Hawks 15-7, but not able to find the back of the net.
“No, absolutely not,” said LaMere, when asked if the two early goals were sending them to another easy win. “When we did get that lead it was a huge build of confidence. But a 2-0 lead is the hardest lead in hockey and that’s something I’ve been preached since I was 10 years old.”
After a scoreless second period, senior captain Dani Sibley notched her team-leading 35th goal of the season in period three and LaMere stopped 13 of her 33 shots to secure the 3-0 win.
The victory set up last Friday’s championship game against No. 7 seed Moorhead – who upset No. 2 seed Roseau 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals and defeated No. 6 seed River Lakes 7-2 in the semifinals.
The Spuds played the Hawks tough in a 3-2 loss two weeks ago at STMA Arena. Hawks head coach Jason Johnson said he was not buying the rumors that NWC was a top seed in a weak section.
“I don’t know if it’s a weaker section,” Johnson said. “Some of these northern teams don’t play down in the cities a lot and they are beating up on each other. So we don’t know much about them. If you look at a lot of the section games, they were 1-2 goal games. The separation from teams 1-7 isn’t a lot of difference.”
Unlike the Bemidji game, the River Hawks and Spuds were playing a chess match to see who would make the first mistake. A Moorhead penalty to Rebekah Hakk led to the game’s first goal on the power play. Like the Bemidji game, it was King opening the scoring at 10:43 of the opening period.
“At first I fell down and I thought the play was over because I thought the goalie had the puck covered,” said King, on describing the goal in which the Moorhead bench thought the play should have been whistled dead. “Then I got up and everyone was fighting for the puck and I went after it and sooner or later the puck popped into the net.”
It was King’s third goal of the post-season and 11th goal of the season. She was not part of the 2011 team that went to its first ever state tournament since merging from the Blades to the River Hawks.
“This is crazy,” said an excited King afterwards.
The game remained 1-0 into period three, thanks in large part to Moorhead sophomore goalie Brianna Storms. The Spuds goaltender made several big saves. The shots were a lopsided 31-14 after two periods, but the score remained 1-0.
Moorhead failed to convert on a 5-minute power play. Moments later, NWC scored three third-period goals, including Sibley’s 35th goal from sophomore Greta Stanton. Sophomore defenseman Marina Chapman made it 3-0 with a slap shot from the point off a face off win from junior Kaleigh Hamann. Senior Rachel Heiber made it 4-0 with an assist to Sibley into the empty net.
“Moorhead is a good team and they play physical and kind of took it to us in the first,” Sibley said. “We never gave up and fought through it and played our hockey and took it to them.”
LaMere made 27 saves to record her 7th shutout of the season and record the River Hawks’ third straight post-season shutout.
“It’s hard to lose when you don’t give any goals up,” Johnson said. “That’s a trademark of our team is playing good defense and Alex made some big saves on the kill. But when it was 5-on-5 we didn’t give up many good looks.”
The Hawks begin first-round play Thursday night at 8 p.m. against Lakeville North at Xcel Energy Center. The Hawks (23-4-1) went 0-2, losing 6-1 to Coon Rapids and 3-0 to Elk River in the 2011 state tournament. Sibley was one of a handful of player’s part of that tournament team.
“The first time at state, we weren’t expected to go and we were shocked and surprised and the girls were taking it all in,” Sibley said. “This year we know what it’s like. Most of us have been down there and we just have to go down and play our hockey.”