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Girls hockey: Pioneers gain second straight state tournament
Hill-Murray downs Roseville, Stillwater to win Section 4AA title
The Hill-Murray Pioneers are headed to the girls state hockey tournament for the second year in a row.
Seeded No. 1 in Section 4AA playoffs, the Pioneers received a first-round bye.
The Classic Suburban Conference (12-0) champions played their first game in semifinal action against Roseville (4th seed) Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Aldrich Arena and won 4-1.
The victory advanced the Pioneers to the Friday, Feb. 14, championship game, where they met Stillwater, a 5-3 victor over Cretin-Derham Hall.
The win over the Ponies by an identical score, 4-1, gave the Pioneers a berth in the Minnesota State Girls Class AA Hockey Tournament, which will be held Feb. 19-22 at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.
In the opening round Hill-Murray (2nd seed) [23-3-1] will face Burnsville [16-9-3] at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 20.
A year ago in their first state tournament, the Pioneers were the runners-up to Minnetonka.
Hill-Murray 4 - Roseville 1
Hill-Murray head coach Bill Schafhauser gave his thoughts on the section playoffs.
“I was very happy with our effort against Roseville,” he said. “I was concerned with the bye that we might be a little ‘game rusty,’ but we overcame that with hard work and tenacity.
“Roseville is a great program, and we knew we had to come prepared to battle to the last buzzer and that was the case.
“Their goalie (Brittany Boss) played great, and we were fortunate to get three goals from our defense to help our cause. Also, Leah Patrick was outstanding for us in goal. Overall, I was really pleased with our performance,” Schafhauser said.
The Pioneers opened the scoring against the Roseville Raiders when Jac Kaasa fed sophomore defender McKenzie Steffen, who scored at 9:16.
The teams skated into the second period with Hill-Murray clinging to the 1-0 lead despite outshooting Roseville 12-5.
The Pioneers continued their territorial advantage but didn’t score until Sarah Bobrowski sent a pass back to senior defender Brittney Anderson, who unleashed a rifle shot at 13:18. It would turn out to be the eventual game-winner.
The Raiders put on their best sustained pressure in the Hill-Murray zone less than a minute later.
A wild scramble in front of the Pioneers’ net saw three quick shots saved. Finally, the puck squirted to Madison Gaffney, who was able to bang it home at 14:52. On the goal, Erika Bjorkman picked up an assist.
The cheers for the Roseville goal had hardly subsided before Brittney Anderson gained control again at the right point. She fired a laser shot that made its way through traffic and into the Roseville net.
Anderson’s second tally, an unassisted effort, came at 16:16 and pushed the count to 3-1 as play headed into the third period.
The final score came after Lindsey Featherstone bounced a shot off the blocker. The rebound, fired back by Kate Smith, clanged off the left pipe and caromed into the goal at 9:34.
The 4-1 win put Hill-Murray up against the 2nd seeded Stillwater Ponies (18-8-1) at Aldrich Arena.
Hill-Murray 4 - Stillwater 1
The Pioneers handed the Stillwater Ponies a broken heart on Valentine’s Day in the Ponies’ quest for a state tournament berth.
In the Section 4AA championship game, Hill-Murray dominated play and gained a 4-1 victory. The Pioneers outshot the Ponies by 36-14.
Hill-Murray head coach Bill Schafhauser said, “Winning the section final is always tough, and it was! Stillwater was big, strong and competed really hard.
“We struggled with nerves a little early on, but slowly worked our way out. I was very pleased to play our best hockey in the third period.
Overall, it was a well-balanced effort. We had solid goal tending (Leah Patrick), a couple of power-play goals and scoring from all three lines.”
Hill-Murray opened the scoring when feeds from Mekenzie Steffen and Sarah Bobrowski found sophomore winger Laura Anderson, who put puck into the Stillwater net at 12:11 in the first period.
Early in the second, the Ponies were assessed a penalty for slashing. It was the sharpshooting Anderson who this time took assists from Bobrowski and Jac Kaasa and scored her second power-play tally at 3:32.
Five minutes later, the Ponies came back. With a player in the penalty box, Stillwater’s Taylor Naugle found pay dirt at 8:42 on a short-handed effort.
The third period belonged to the Pioneers as they outshot Stillwater 14-3 and gained a pair of tallies.
Steffen fed the puck to Rebecca Zarembinski who connected at 6:25.
With assists from Samantha Boyer and Abigail Boreen, Lindsey Featherstone posted the final goal at 9:57.
From then on, Hill-Murray protected its three-goal advantage until the final horn when the ice became cluttered with gloves and sticks as the Pioneers began celebrating their Section 4AA championship.
Looking ahead, Schafhauser stated, “We are excited to get back to the state tourney. Hopefully, we can draw from our experience last year and have success. It’s all about focusing on the ‘now’ and preparing for Burnsville -- not looking beyond that. No matter how things go next week, I am proud of our team. They are amped up!”
Wally Wakefield can be reached at email@example.com.