For more than two periods, North Wright County’s section quarterfinal matchup with the St. Cloud Icebreakers went almost exactly according to plan.
Opportunities were limited for both teams, with NWC being opportunistic and capitalizing twice in the span of a minute in the second period to take a two goal lead into what was supposed to be the final period.
But in the third period, the Icebreakers flipped the script. The home team (by virtue of being the No. 4 seed to the Riverhawks’ fifth seed) scored twice in the period, the final goal coming with just over 30 seconds left in the game to force extra hockey.
Four overtime periods later, the Icebreakers capped the comeback, scoring the game-winning goal over 10 minutes into the fourth extra session, defeating the Riverhawks 3-2.
“I’ve been in hockey, coaching, for 16 years, and I’ve had some devastating losses,” said Riverhawks Coach Jason Johnson. “This was one of the hardest ones that I’ve been a part of.”
One of the things making it the most difficult for North Wright County to accept after the loss was that they felt if they got by the Icebreakers, they could vie for the section championship in what many view as a wide-open section.
Midway through the game, it looked like the Hawks might cruise into the next round.
North Wright County got on the scoreboard with just 5 1/2 minutes left in the second period by taking advantage on one of just two power plays they were granted during the game.
The Hawks threw the puck to the net and Rachel King was there to take the rebound and deposit it in the net, Johnson said. Assists on the goal went to Kaleigh Hamann and Mariah Chapman.
Then, just 37 seconds later, it was Emily Achterkirch’s turn to get in on the scoring, again off a rebound.
Achterkirch followed her own shot to the net and found the puck on the doorstep, poking it past the goaltender, giving the Riverhawks a 2-0 advantage.
“That gave us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the Riverhawks held that confidence throughout the second period and into the third.
Early in the third, NWC controlled the puck in its zone for nearly the entirety of a 3- to 4-minute stretch, according to Johnson. But that stretch ended when the Hawks took a penalty, and things quickly turned the other direction.
The Icebreakers scored early in the power play, with just over 10 minutes gone by in the final period.
“Next thing you know, the lead is halved,” said Johnson.
After a flurry of activity immediately following the goal, Johnson said the Riverhawks settled in and play evened out down the stretch.
It wasn’t until the Icebreakers pulled their goalie, and forced a NWC icing with less than a minute left, that things again got dicey for the Hawks.
NWC won the following faceoff in their zone, with the puck going back to goaltender Alex LaMere, who covered it for a second faceoff.
The ensuing faceoff didn’t go as well.
According to Johnson, the Icebreakers won it cleanly, pushing the puck toward the far post of the net. Skating there was a St. Cloud forward, unmarked, who took the puck and banged it into the back of the net, tying the game at two.
NWC regrouped admirably, battling through three overtime sessions to keep the score even. But in the fourth, the Icebreakers won it, ending the Riverhawks season sooner than hoped.
“If we made it past this game, we felt like we were in good shape,” Johnson said. Instead, he was left feeling like all the work his girls put in didn’t pay off like it could have.
“They spent all year doing everything we asked and they continued to do it and they just weren’t rewarded,” he said.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]