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Mirage back to defend title

02/26/2022, 6:30am CST
By Pete Waggoner

St. Paul, MN - The Proctor/Hermantown Mirage earned the right to defend their Minnesota State High School League girls’ Class A hockey title with a 4-1 win over the Orono Spartans.   The Mirage erupted with four goals in the third period to erase a 1-0 deficit after two periods.  

The Spartans (25-4-0) opened the scoring early, at 1:26 of the first period on a goal by Mae Grandy.  Through two periods, Spartan goaltender Celia Dahl turned aside all 17 of shots against.  Being behind in a hockey game is nothing new to the Mirage (21-7-1) and they found themselves in similar territory against the Spartans.  

“We had to stick to our game plan and we’ve had to do that all year,” Mirage coach Emma Stauber said after the game.  “We found ourselves from behind throughout many games this season and it’s a perseverance type of situation and that’s what we found ourselves in, going into the third.  From the coaching staff perspective, we just really tried to get these girls to continue to believe in the process, to believe in themselves, because they are capable of what they just put out there in the third period.  

Hannah Graves tied the game at one just 1:03 into the third period.  Kate Sandelin made the initial play high in the slot taking a loose puck that she pushed to the left of the net where Rylee Gilbertson was waiting for the puck.  Graves went to her typical spot off the back door and was left open for an easy tap in goal. 

“Katie Sandelin shot it from the point, but I could tell it wasn’t going on net,” Gilbertson said.  “So, I caught the pass and I know Hannah’s always backdoor because she’s always calling for it.  It happened earlier in the game but I couldn’t get it over to her, so I knew she was there.  I passed it right behind my back and it got through and then I saw the puck in the back of the net.”

The Mirage clamped down on the game after a big push from the entire team.  It came down to adjusting a bit how the Mirage addressed the third period.  “We don’t really practice dumping and chasing but we could tell that they were getting tired.  We obviously knew they were going to still battle for it but we could tell they were getting tired through their rotation.  So, we tried to just get it over the redline, get it over their blueline, get it in deep and continue to put our forechecking pressure on them,” Stauber said.  

In order for that to work effectively, there needs to be depth on a team’s bench.  The Mirage used their depth through the third period and delivered in a big way.  Reese Heitzman scored the eventual game winning goal at 4:35.  She benefitted from a battle win off the boards by Nya Sieger who was able to walk to the goalmouth area.  Open off the backdoor again for another tap in goal.  

“We’ve been running three lines all season with an additional fourth,” Stabuer said. “We truly believe in our players and what we have, and the depth.  So you could kind of see  that shine through there in the third.”

The wearing down process continued with a goal by Jane Ekstrom and an empty net tally by Reese Heitman for her second of the game.  The Spartans were not without a push for the game as they fired 17 shots on the Mirage net.  Goalie Abby Pajari made 29 saves for the Mirage in the win. 

Returning to the state final is not a given, and that is something Stauber stressed in her post game remarks and said.  “I am extremely proud of this group.  It’s been a very difficult year from the target that we’ve seen throughout the season.  Everyone wants to take down a defending state champion.  You have that and you know that going into every game.  We lost ten seniors last year and this team is completely different.  It took all season to really mold us to where we are right now.  We knew we could get here, it was just whether or not as a team, we would decide to get here.” 

Decision made, the Mirage will have a date in the state final with Warroad.





Tag(s): State Of Hockey