‘Hawks take first L, but bounce back with a blowout

Playing close games against tough teams caught up to the North Wright County Riverhawks Friday. Saturday they took no such chances.
Friday night, the Hawks faced off against a Red Wing squad that is ranked third in Class A, the exact position previously occupied by South St. Paul, who the Hawks beat 4-2 a couple of weeks back.
Just like that game, the Hawks, now ranked 19th in Class AA, again proved capable of hanging with a highly ranked opponent. Unlike that game, NWC allowed their talented opponent one too many chances.
It was a back-and-forth affair from the start. North Wright County struck first, with a goal from Maddi Sjelin. But Red Wing, who boasts a University of Minnesota commit (Paige Haley) and  the state’s leading scorer (Nicole Schammel), responded quickly.
A Hawks’ penalty gave Red Wing a power play opportunity, and they took advantage of the numbers. They scored 30 seconds in, equalizing the game at one. From there, the highly ranked squad took advantage of the momentum, adding another goal two minutes later to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
In the second period, NWC bounced back. The Hawks controlled the period against a Red Wing team with an immensely talented core group, but a lack of depth. North Wright County took 19 shots on goal. Their opponent took just three.
But despite two power plays, the Hawks got just one even strength goal in the period, coming from Emily Achterkirch, as they sent the game to the third period tied at two.
In the third, NWC was finally able to regain the lead. A goal from Dani Sibley, six minutes in, put the Hawks up 3-2, and had them feeling in control.
That lasted about 30 seconds.
Then NWC took two penalties simultaneously, giving the Red Wing skill players a 5 on 3 and a big momentum shift. Again, they took advantage.
Schammel scored her first goal of the game, seven minutes into the third period, to tie things up at three.
Two minutes and one more penalty later, Red Wing had added another power play goal and had taken another lead, this time at 4-3.
The Hawks weren’t done yet.
Resiliency and resolve are two of Coach Jason Johnson’s favorite words when talking about the Hawks, and they showed it Friday. A goal from Sibley, with five and a half minutes remaining, would eventually send North Wright County into their second straight overtime game.
As the five-minute overtime wound down, the game appeared headed for a tie. Unfortunately for the Hawks, there was one dramatic swing left. With less than 30 seconds remaining, a Hawks’ defender tried to clear the puck out of the zone. Instead, it hit a ref and deflected to Schammel. She found Emily Stegora, and with just 16 seconds left, Stegora found the net, giving Red Wing a 5-4 win.
“We probably didn’t deserve to come out of there with a win,” said Johnson. “We have to be better at staying disciplined.”
For the game, the Hawks took six penalties. Four of them came in the third period. Three of them led to goals, including two in the final period.
Saturday offered a chance for the Hawks to bounce back.
“I love playing back to back,” said Johnson. “It’s a chance to kind of redeem yourself.”
The Hawks did that and more, as they eviscerated section opponent Brainerd/Little Falls, 10-0.
The Hawks scored four goals in the first period and the final period as they cruised to a victory behind three goals from Sibley and three assists each from Kaleigh Hamann and Rachel Heiber.
While Saturday offered a short term confidence boost, Johnson believes games like Friday will offer long-term benefits.
“All these tests early are going to help us down the road,” said Johnson.