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Girls' Hockey: Wingers' state championship hopes end

Senior Elle Bryant takes a faceoff in the Mirage defensive zone. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
Junior Emily Hart launches a slap shot from the right wing during the first period of Red Wing's quarterfinal game against Proctor/Hermantown. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
A couple of Wingers scramble to knock the puck in before the Mirage goalie got to it. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Senior Nicole Oberding chases the puck into the corner. She scored the Wingers' only goal during their loss to Proctor/Hermantown in the state quarterfinals. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

The Red Wing Wingers' girls hockey team saw their state championship hopes dashed Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center with a 3-1 upset loss to the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage. The second-seeded Wingers saw a very different Mirage team than their first meeting back in December when Red Wing won 5-2 on three power play goals and got a hat trick from senior, and University of Minnesota, commit Taylor Heise. This time, the Mirage were ready for, and had a plan to contain ,Heise, and give Red Wing's offense fits.

Stifling defense

The game started off slowly as each team felt the other out, but Red Wing slowly began to assert themselves and take the advantage. The Wingers were not able to convert on a couple dangerous chances in the first, and come the second and third periods, the Mirage managed to flip the momentum with physical play and stifling defense. It was Proctor/Hermantown's style of play that head coach Scott Haley said posed matchup problems for his team.

"The two northern teams we played, Duluth Marshall and Proctor/Hermantown, they, of all the teams we played, probably scared me the most because they are very physical. They work hard, they play fast and hard," he said. "They gave us some matchup problems with their size and their aggressiveness, and from what I saw, that kind of worked out for them. They took away time and space from our kids, they were well coached and well disciplined. You could see that they made adjustments as the game went on."

Proctor/Hermantown scored two goals in the second period to take a 2-0 lead as they gave the Wingers' offense fits. They did an excellent job of containing Heise, who in her own words said, "I think they back-checked like no one's business, they were all back, when I came up the ice I saw all five of them". Heise had trouble breaking through so many opposing skaters and when she did she found very little space to work with as help came.

Trailing 2-0 late in the third period, Red Wing pulled goalie Tyler McGrath with just over two minutes left but were unable to convert. They gave up Proctor/Hermantown's third goal of the night on an empty net with just under two minutes left. While senior Nicole Oberding scored with under a minute left (assisted by senior Kendal Swanson and junior Emily Hart), it was too little too late and the Wingers fell to the consolation bracket.

Still games to play

The Wingers still have potentially two more games to play. They face Marshall tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 10 a.m. at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. Should they win, they would then play for the consolation championship at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Despite no longer being able to win a state championship this year, Red Wing still has work to do to finish out their season.

"We're obviously taking it really tough, we've been working for this for a long time, since we were young, we were really hoping to come out with the win," Oberding said. "But we're just really trying to stay positive so that we can rebound and at least take home some sort of hardware and really come back and win again."

Red Wing is led by eight seniors, some of whom were around the last time the Wingers made the state tournament in 2015. With just a couple games left in their prep careers, they are one of the last links to the five-year state run from just a few years ago, and have left their own mark on Red Wing girls' hockey history.

"We've come a long way ... we have a huge senior class and we've been together since I can remember, since we started hockey," Oberding said. "So we've grown a lot together, and it's been important because it's been together. We've done all our offseason camps together. We've played together for years. It's just been really cool to grow up with the same group and have the same goals."

"Growing up with all these great girls, considering I'm not from Red Wing, they welcomed me in with open arms and made sure I felt included in everything," said Heise, a Lake City native. "They're my family and my best friends. It's just a cool thing to play with them every day. I think we had like three or four (players quit from their senior group) and that's a cool thing that we still have eight left. That's a big senior group and we're hoping to go out with a bang, come out with a lot of intensity and really play as a family."

Heise is a finalist for the Let's Play Hockey 2018 Ms. Hockey Award, along with Madison Bizal of Elk River/Zimmerman, Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser of Centennial, and Emily Oden of Edina. The winner will be announced at a banquet on Saturday.

Alec Hamilton

Alec Hamilton is a sports reporter and general assignment reporter at the Hastings Star Gazette. He is a journalism graduate of Drake University.

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