Unfortunately for the North Wright County Riverhawks, a matchup of top 20 girls hockey teams lived up to the hype Tuesday night.
The Hawks, ranked No. 13 in Class AA by Lets Play Hockey, played host to conference rival Buffalo (No. 11) at the Moose Sherritt Ice Arena Tuesday night with the Mississippi 8 conference title on the line.
NWC jumped out to a 2-0 lead just minutes into the game, and led 3-1 after the first period, as it looked like they might take all of the excitement out of the game.
Instead Buffalo, as all good teams do, responded.
The Bison came out with renewed energy to start the second, and played with fire till the end, chasing down the Riverhawks before eventually passing them up in the third period for a 4-3 win.
The victory gave the two teams a split on the year, and left them each with one conference loss with one game to play.
“Maybe it’s a little bit of wisdom with age, but it’s hard to feel bad about that one,” said NWC Coach Jason Johnson. “There is disappointment, no doubt. But it was a great hockey game, and somebody is probably going to lose. Tonight it was us.”
It sure didn’t look like that would be the case early. The Hawks started the game with impressive energy and a sense of urgency to match.
Johnson said they talked beforehand about how important the first five minutes were in a big game, the team must have listened.
Just over three minutes in, a centering pass from Greta Stanton found Dani Sibley in front of the net. Sibley’s low shot ricocheted off the goaltender to teammate Maddi Sjelin who found herself on the left edge of the crease with the goaltender well out of position. Sjelin punched it in for the early lead.
Thirteen seconds later, Stanton doubled the lead with an unassisted goal.
The Bison would cut it to 2-1 with 90 seconds left in the period, but an impressive individual effort from Sjelin created another rebound opportunity, and this time Sibley put it away, giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead at the first intermission.
But Buffalo didn’t roll over. The Bison, led by senior Katie Rooney, scored two goals in the second period to tie the game. Then, just two minutes into the third, Rooney got loose for a shorthanded opportunity. The star player took advantage, giving the Bison a one-goal lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Rooney and the Bison stole the Hawks’ opportunity to win the conference outright for the second straight year, but with a win against Cambridge Feb. 1, NWC will still secure half of the conference championship along with the Bison.
“When you talk about it when you get older, you were conference champs,” said Johnson. “No one is going to say ‘oh were you co-conference champions?’”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org