Riverhawks claw to third straight win with overtime victory
Resolve, resiliency and four goals from Rachel Heiber lifted the North Wright County Riverhawks to a 5-4 overtime win Saturday against Chaska/Chanhassen.
NWC clawed back from three different scoring deficits (2-1, 3-1 and 4-2) to force the extra period of play. Heiber scored the game-winner on a nifty penalty shot.
The Riverhawks were working an overtime power play opportunity when a Stormhawk fell on the puck while it was still in the crease, drawing a second penalty.
Coach Jason Johnson called Heiber, a senior team captain, over to the bench after the penalty was called. Heiber confirmed the team’s two options, he said.
“When she came to me and said, ‘Hey, we can take a penalty shot or we can do the power play,’ I convinced her to finish the game for us, because she already had a hat-trick. She made a great move on the play.” Johnson added: “It was interesting because the first penalty came while the opposing player was very close to the crease. That [too] could have been a penalty shot. It was strange to have it happen a minute and 40 seconds later, with the exact type of play in the crease.”
The Riverhawks kept the pressure on throughout the overtime, outshooting Chaska/Chanhassen 8-1. Goaltender Alex Lamere came up big when it counted.
“The one save that we did make in the overtime was a great save by Alex,” Johnson said. “That was a game-changing save. By her estimation, she didn’t have her best game Saturday night, but she was able to make that save and give us a chance to win it.” Johnson had additional praise for Heiber’s effort on offense.
“I checked last year’s stats, and she had six goals last year,” Johnson said. “She’s already at that mark after three games this season. We needed players to step up at the start of this year, and obviously, she’s one of those players who have started to contribute offensively for us. She’s got the hot hand right now.”
According to Johnson, Chaska/Chanhassen presented a formidable challenge for NWC, since the Stormhawks opened the season with an impressive effort.
“They were ranked 17th the first week, and won their first game with 57 shots on goal,” Johnson said. “They have five out of six leading scores back this year.”
Johnson offered a simple observation in the locker room between the second and third periods. He said the next team to score would end up winning the game.
“I told them in the locker room, if we were able to get the next goal in the third period, we would win the game,” he said. “I kind of threw out that guarantee. We made it 3-2, then they came back and made it 4-2 right way. It speaks a lot about our team to come back from two goals down. Looking at our schedule, we’ve had tremendous challenges early in the season. The outcomes have been going our way, but we don’t want to get into the habit of getting down 2-0, either.”
The Riverhawks had a third hero during Saturday night’s game at the Chaska Community Center. Emily Acherkirch scored the team’s four goal at 8:39 of the third period. A Stormhawk tripping call gave NWC a power play chance to win the game deep in the final period at 16:03, but the Riverhawks could not score.
“We just didn’t have a great execution of our power play to end it in regulation,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go on our power play this week. The first two games, we really didn’t have a lot of power play opportunities, but we did get a lot of good looks,” he added. “We will score a power play goal at some point.”
Red Wing and the Brainerd/Little Falls Flying Warriors are next on the Riverhawks schedule. Johnson said the team’s entire schedule remains full of challenges.
“We have Red Wing Friday, and they are ranked fifth in Class A,” he said. “The closest game they’ve played has been 5-1 or 6-1. They have their top four scores back from last year. They will be huge challenge for us, and Saturday we have a section game with Brainerd. They are much improved from last year.”
Johnson said the Brainerd game is important for the Riverhawks for another reason. “We only get a look at them once, and if we lose to a team in our section, it’s hard for us to be ranked ahead of them because of the head-to-head,” Johnson said. “Both of these contests are very important and critical games for us.”