Last year, North Wright County learned nothing can be taken for granted in postseason play, not even as the one seed. In 2012, the top-seeded Hawks got buried by Sauk Rapids in the section semifinals. In 2013, NWC was quick to make sure that history wasn’t going to repeat itself.
This time, against fourth-seeded Bemidji, NWC jumped out to a two goal lead just 80 seconds into the game, and watched that lead hold up thanks to outstanding goaltending mixed with great forechecking.
It was just 40 seconds into the game when Rachel King took advantage of a Bemidji turnover, turning it into a 1-0 breakaway. With just the goalie in front of her, King found a hole, the 5-hole to be specific, and put the puck in the back of the net.
Before the crowd even finished celebrating the goal, Rachel Heiber drove the puck on the net, creating confusion before leaving the puck sitting on the doorstep. Dani Sibley answered the bell. The senior scorer picked up the puck and lifted it over the visiting goaltender, making it 2-0 just a minute and 20 seconds into the game.
That goal gave Sibley her 61st point of the year, breaking a Riverhawks’ record that was previously held by Kasey Bloomberg.
“She gives us great offensive presence,” said Johnson.
Led by Sibley and the top line, the Hawks kept Bemidji on their heels for much of the first period. After the Lumberjacks took the first shot of the game, NWC took 16 of the next 17. But after the first two goals, Bemidji’s goalie held up well. And when Bemidji got a power play opportunity for the final two minutes of the first period, they were able to stem the momentum.
In the second period, Bemidji, aided by a couple of power plays, including 60 seconds of a 5-on-3, continued to put pressure on the Hawks and goaltender Alex Lamere.
“They kind of threw everything they had at us,” said Johnson.
The pressure caused Lamere to shine bright like a diamond.
The goaltender made several impressive saves, ocassionally including multiple saves on one possession, as she kept the Lumberjacks from ever cutting into the lead.
“She was phenomenal,” said Johnson. That is the way we expect and want her to play every night. She played at the top of her game.”
After getting outshot 14-7 in the second period, NWC was able to regain some control in the third. The home team pressured the net a few times, before finally breaking through one more time.
Maddie Sjelin, who scored five goals in an 8-0 quarterfinal win over Brainerd last week, brought the puck up in a 2-on-1 situation. She eventually drew the defender toward her, leaving her linemate Sibley all alone. Sibley took the pass, and with the poise of a standout slowly deked left before going right and wrapping the puck around the goalie and into the goal for the final margin.
For the second time in three years, the Hawks are going to the section finals.
It was huge for us to get that win,” said Lamere. “It feels really, really good. We aren’t settling here though, we still have a lot of goals in front of us.”
The next goal is to get to the ‘X’, that is the Xcel Energy Center, where the state tournament is played. To do that, they’ll have to beat seventh-seeded Moorhead, a team that has already knocked off second-seeded Roseau and sixth-seeded River Lakes on it’ own path to the final.
The Hawks matched up with Moorhead in the last week of the regular season. NWC won that game 3-2, outshooting the Spuds 44-22.
The section final will be played in Sartell Friday night. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org