Riverhawks get clipped in state tourney overtime thriller

A furious rally, including two goals in the final minutes, proved all for naught Thursday night for the North Wright County Riverhawks.

Making their second state tournament appearance, the ‘Hawks turned a late 4-2 deficit against Lakeville North into an overtime battle, but they couldn’t overcome the Panthers special team dominance. Lakeville recorded a power play goal halfway through the eight-minute overtime period to earn a 5-4 win and move on to a state semifinal date with Minnetonka.

Lakeville North sneaks a puck past Alex LaMere and the Riverhawks defense to tie the state quarterfinal game at 2 early in the second period. (Photo by Clay Sawatzke)

Lakeville North sneaks a puck past Alex LaMere and the Riverhawks defense to tie the state quarterfinal game at 2 early in the second period. (Photo by Clay Sawatzke)

“You hate to see a power play, for either side, in overtime,” said Coach Jason Johnson. “But we were almost out of that penalty kill, and we didn’t finish.”

The goal, coming with two seconds left in the power play, nullified an impressive Riverhawks comeback. After taking a 2-1 lead after the first period, the Hawks were outplayed and consistently outshot for much of the game. But in the final six minutes, trailing by two goals, NWC realized it was now or never.

“We weren’t going to go down without a battle,” said Rachel Heiber.

It was Heiber’s terrific forecheck that led to a takeaway, and when she put a bad-angle shot on net, it created a perfect rebound. Maddi Sjelin was there to dump it in the back of the net, bringing NWC to within one with four minutes left.

Moments later, the Hawks earned another chance. This time it was Rachel King who got the puck on the net. She didn’t see a rebound, but she did see the puck get stuck by the goaltender’s skate, which no one else seemed to realize. King drove the net and knocked the puck loose and Kaleigh Hamann scooped it up and knocked it in, tying the game with just over three minutes to play.

“I saw the puck sitting there, and I felt like time just froze,” King said. “I just tried to shove it in there, and I was so thankful Kaleigh was there to score.”

The Hawks mustered a couple of more scoring opportunities in a dominant last six minutes of play but couldn’t find the back of the net for the game winner. Momentum remained in NWC’s favor in overtime until the Hawks took a penalty, setting up the eventual game winning score.

With the loss the Hawks are now in the consolation semifinals where they will play Irondale at noon today. Irondale is coming off a 4-0 loss to top-seeded Minnetonka. The game will be played at Ridder Arena, and for the Hawks the game will be a test of their mental toughness, as they look to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss only 14 hours after the fact.

“We just gotta pick each other up,” said Dani Sibley, who missed a portion of the second period after suffering a knee injury, last night. “There are a lot of tears in that locker room, but tonight we’re gonna go back to the hotel room, get some rest, and come ready to play tomorrow.”

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