Pressure is off as Hill-Murray girls hockey goes after another title

Hill Murray’s No. 6, Jac Kaasa, scoring one her goals on her way to a hat trick Feb. 9 in the Section 4AA semifinal game against Stillwater in which the Pioneers drubbed the Ponies, 8-1. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Hill Murray’s No. 6, Jac Kaasa, scoring one her goals on her way to a hat trick Feb. 9 in the Section 4AA semifinal game against Stillwater in which the Pioneers drubbed the Ponies, 8-1. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Hill-Murray girls hockey head coach Bill Schafhauser had a look of relief on his face following his team’s game in the Section 4AA final on Feb. 11. The Pioneers had just wrapped up another berth to the state tournament to earn a shot at their third consecutive state championship.

For Schafhauser, the section playoffs are more of a pressure cooker than the state tournament. 

“It always seems that the section play is much more stressful than the state experience,” Schafhauser said. “This one-and-done pressure that they face in sections is a whole different deal. To be honest, it’s a little less stressful heading down to St. Paul next week.”

Regardless, Hill-Murray is the team to beat for the first time — even if the school is seeking its third title in as many years. The Pioneers enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed for the first time in their five state appearances. They also sport a record that does not include any losses.

“It’s never easy, I ll tell you that, but it feels awesome,” said Schafhauser. “I’m really happy for the kids.”

As the No. 1 seed, Hill-Murray opens the tournament on Feb. 18 with a 6 p.m. game. The seeding for the state tournament took place past the deadline for this edition of the Review. 

At press time, four of the eight state berths had been clinched. Lakeville South, Eastview and Forest Lake are joining Hill-Murray in downtown St. Paul this week. The other four sections played their championship finals on Feb. 12.

The Pioneers earned their berth in the state tournament by beating a pesky Mounds View squad 3-1 in the section final at Roseville Arena. Despite holding a large advantage in shots on goal and puck possession, Hill-Murray found itself leading by only one goal going to the third period.

Following a sluggish second period that saw Hill-Murray commit four penalties, the Pioneers got a quick goal to open the third and relieve some of the pressure. Junior Lindsey Featherstone whipped a backhand past Mounds View goalie Teagen Johnson to give the Pioneers a two-goal lead that they would not relinquish.

“That was huge, obviously,” Schafhauser said. “It gave us a little bit of a cushion. We’ve been pretty good with a lead and I don’t think we gave up much too much offense after that.”

Hill-Murray held Mounds View to five shots on goal in third period after giving up 10 in the second. The Mustangs scored the only goal of the second period when Sydney Brodt knocked the puck past Hill-Murray’s freshman netminder Ava Bailey just 45 seconds into the period.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to an opponent that played really hard,” Schafhauser said. “Mounds View played great.”

Hill-Murray threatened to run the Mustangs out of the building in the first period as it pumped 17 shots on Johnson. Two of those shots beat her but it took nearly 13 minutes to get the first one.

Junior Erica Steigauf opened the scoring when she ripped a forehand into the upper corner at 12:43 of the first period. Less than two minutes later, the Pioneers went up 2-0 on a goal by senior Taylor Henthorne.

Henthorne, who played at Roseville Area High School before moving to Hill-Murray for her senior year, is going to her first state tournament. 

“It s incredible,” Henthorne said. “It’s a really good experience and I can’t wait to get there.”

Bailey finished with 18 saves while Johnson stopped 38 of the 41 shots she faced.

Despite the rash of penalties in the second period, Hill-Murray was perfect on the penalty kill. It is one of the Pioneers’ strengths and came in handy against Mounds View.

“We’ve been outstanding on the penalty kill all year and when it counted the most we were really good at it,” Schafhauser said.

He would rather not have to rely on the penalty kill all that much, however.

“The kids are all amped up and they were pretty aggressive on a few of those penalties,” Schafhauser added. “We’ve got to be careful with that. Pretty soon that can catch up with you.”

Hill-Murray secured its spot in the section final by taking care of business in the semifinals on Feb. 9 at Aldrich Arena against fifth-seeded Stillwater. The Ponies upset fourth-seeded Roseville in the quarterfinals but had no such luck against the Pioneers.

After a first period in which Stillwater limited Hill-Murray to two goals on eight shots, the Pioneers ramped up the pressure and put the game away. Taylor Wemple, Katie Kaufman, Jac Kaasa and Kate Smith all tallied goals as Hill-Murray fired 20 shots at Stillwater netminder Caitlin Carter.

In addition to her second-period marker, Kaasa also scored once in the first and once in the third periods to notch a hat trick. She also had an assist and finished the game with four points. Mekenzie Steffen added a goal and two assists for a three-point night and Abigail Boreen also had three points on three assists.

Laura Anderson, Katie Kaufman and Henthorne had two points apiece.

Hill-Murray opened the post-season with a quarterfinal match-up against eighth-seeded Woodbury on Feb. 5 at Roseville Arena. The Royals kept the game close through two periods but the Pioneers blew it open in the third.

A six-goal third period turned a somewhat tight contest into a runaway. Hill-Murray led 3-0 after two periods and ended up winning 9-1.

Anderson and Kaasa scored goals 32 seconds apart to open the third. Woodbury got one back but the Pioneers then closed out the scoring on goals by Featherstone, Haylee Blinkhorn, Henthorne and Smith.

Hill-Murray finished the game with 66 shots on goal. Pioneers goalie Mari Johnson faced only nine shots and stopped eight.

Anderson finished with four points on two goals and two assists while Smith added three points on a goal and two assists. Also recording multi-point games were Kaasa, Featherstone, Blinkhorn and Henthorne.

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.


Section 4AA girls hockey playoffs

Quarterfinals
Game 1  Hill-Murray 9, Woodbury 1
Game 2  Stillwater 4, Roseville 1
Game 3  Mounds View 2, North/Tartan 2
Game 4  White Bear Lake 4, Irondale/St. Anthony 2

Semifinals 
Game 5  Hill-Murray 8, Stillwater 1
Game 6  Mounds View 2, White Bear Lake 0

Championship game 
Game 7  Hill-Murray 3, Mounds View 1

 

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