Girls hockey: Packed crowd watches Tartan squeak by Polars

Tabaka scores overtime tally

Tartan 2 - North 1

In a girls hockey game that kept the big crowd of fans on the edge of their seats for all of regulation and then into overtime, it seemed as if neither Tartan nor North High should have won.

The game had a lot of exciting end-to-end rushes, excellent defense on the part of both teams, and good forechecking and good back checking. There was even a rare penalty shot.

But most of all there was superb goaltending on both ends of the ice at Polar Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

For the Polars it was Marit Larson, and in the net for the Titans was Maggie Straka. Throughout the contest, they were stalwarts who kept their respective teams in contention as first one, and then the other, would make a stop on a shot that seemed sure to find the net behind them.

The end came quickly, as most sudden-death games do. It came on a faceoff to the right of the North net. It was just under halfway through the eight-minute overtime period.

The puck was dropped and a feed back to Ellie Tabaka by Gabriella Bjellos was one-timed toward the North goal. Somewhere along the way the puck was misdirected and sizzled into the far lefthand corner of the North goal.

At 3:12 of the OT period, the game was ended.

“It was a set play,” explained Tabaka after the final chips had settled back to the ice. “Our center (Bjellos) pulls the puck back to me. I just shoot it on net. Our right wing (Hannah Croonquist) goes to the net to screen the goalie. That’s the way it is supposed to work and it did!

“Coming against North, it felt so good. We are really beginning to come together as a team.” Tabaka said, smiled broadly.

It was the third overtime, game-winning goal of the season for the Tartan junior forward.

“It was just a phenomenal game,” said Tartan first-year head coach Nick Fuerst. “Our goalie (Straka) had just a great game. She held us in the game and gave us a chance to win.

“Also Gabriella (Bjellos) had a super game. Tonight we went back to the basics and especially in overtime, and then it paid off for us. But you have to give credit to North. They played an exceptional game. Especially in the third period they really put pressure on us.

It was just a great high school girls hockey game,” Fuerst said.

“Wow,” stated North coach Allie Thunstrom after the game. “It was just a lousy bounce and that was it.

“Our kids,” she said, nodding toward the locker room, “... are disappointed, but they played their hearts out. It was one that could have gone either way.

“It was a great game. We just didn’t get the bounce we needed.”

Knotted up at end of regulation

The opening goal came late in the first period. Bjellos sent a pass up to Tabaka who skated across the blue line.

At the top of the circle to the left of the North net, she let fly a wicked slap shot that found the back mesh. At 16:02 Tartan had the 1-0 margin it carried into the first intermission.

In the second period, some good sustained pressure by North’s forecheckers paid off.

Carli Langevin dug the puck out of a scrum at the side of the Tartan net. She pushed it to Haley Blom stationed in the slot. The junior forward wasted no time firing it into the net for the 1-1 goal at 6:15.

The teams staged one of the more entertaining contests so far in the early season.

As play moved past the halfway point of the third period, North senior winger Katelyn Stepaniak broke in on the Tartan goal. She was about to pull the trigger when a Tartan defender pulled her down from behind. She crashed the net off the stanchions.

The officials immediately signaled that a penalty shot was awarded. A penalty shot is a rarity and perhaps the most exciting play in all of hockey.

The crowd hushed as Stepaniak gathered in the puck at center ice and strode toward the Tartan goal. She moved up the slot and faked left, went to right and shot.

Tartan keeper Straka played the shot superbly and did not go for the deke. She moved to her left and blocked the shot with her left pad.

The Tartan partisans cheered the efforts of goalie Straka.

Try as they might to regain their edge—North outshot the Titans 15-8 in the third period—they could not find the magic to end the game in regulation. Overall shots-on-goal (North 34, Tartan 33) reflected the intensity of play.

After a three-minute rest for the teams, the overtime session began. Tartan, as Coach Fuerst pointed out, “went back to the basics” and in the end it was the basics that made the difference in the Titans’ 2-1 triumph.

Up next

After a holiday tournament at Coon Rapids, the North Polars will meet Mahtomedi Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. at Polar Arena.

Tartan will partake in a holiday Ttournament that will be held in Burnsville and then get back to CSC play when they meet Henry Sibley Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the West St. Paul Arena and then play South St. Paul Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Tartan Arena.

Wally Wakefield can be reached at

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