State tournament week offers much more

John Gilbert

Andover fled its zone as Gavyn Thoreson (1 goal, 5 assists) carried and was trailed by Cooper Conway (4 goals) in the 7-2 7AA final against Duluth East. Photo by John Gilbert.

State hockey tournament week is always a spectacular week of sports in Minnesota, and especially in Northern Minnesota, even though we only have one team among the 16 playing in two classes at Excel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Hermantown is our only true entry, playing in the Class A half of the tournament, although we must give special credit to Duluth East for rising to reclaim its rightful spot in 7AA, even while losing to Andover in a stunning 7-2 section final.  

The Section 7 tournaments lived up to their billing at AMSOIL Arena last week, where Hermantown finally got all its loose ends back together to capture a section that showed a determined effort by Hibbing in the 3-2 semifinal before Rock Ridge proved in its first year that the Iron Range has a new power, taking Hermantown to the limit before the Hawks won 3-1.

The return of Matt Kauppinen from missing the Hibbing game helped the Hawks put down an impressive and constant threat from Rock Ridge, the new school combining Eveleth and Virginia.  

The 7AA final was a show that Andover had gotten everything together from losing 5-1 to East at midseason — a game that thrust East ultimately to the No, 1 seed but also gave No. 2 seed Andover an extra revenge motive.

The game was 0-0 in the second period when Andover’s top line erupted in a scoring frenzy. Gavyn Thoreson scored at 1:43 of the second period, then he proceeded to notch five assists, as Cooper Conway, his opposite wing on the top line, pumped in four goals before the second period ended.  

Thoreson takes 35 goals and 55 assists for 90 points into the state tournament, while Conway has 47 goals, 37 assists for 84 points, and Cayden Casey, their center on the all-senior line, has 22-55—77.  

But there is a lot more big area news this week. The UMD women’s hockey team lost a heartbreaking 2-1 WCHA semifinal to No. 1 ranked Ohio State last Friday at Ridder Arena, despite the flawless play of star goaltender Emma Soderberg. Soderberg stopped 34 Buckeyes shots and was the victim of two of the most fluke goals imaginable in a 1:04 span of the second period.  

All-America defenseman Ashton Bell got the puck in her own end as both teams changed on the fly. Ohio State’s Brooke Bank cruised into the zone, claiming later she was tired but the team plan is to leave one player out to delay the foe’s breakout so the change can go cleanly.

Bell, a brilliant performer for UMD as well as Team Canada, inexplicably carried the puck toward her own goal, and when she got there, she just as inexplicably turned and fired the puck up the middle. It was almost as though she didn’t see Bank arriving, 10 feet away. The puck hit Bank’s left hand and the sudden ricochet was in the net before Soderberg could react.   

“It surprised me when she threw the puck,” said Bank, gesturing toward the ring finger on her left hand. “It hit me right here, and I didn’t even see it go in.”  

That was at 10:50 of the second period, and at 11:54, the Buckeyes put on more pressure. This time, Maggie Flaherty, another UMD stalwart defenseman, got possession and made what looked like a wise choice. She attempted to loft a high pass out of the UMD zone, sort of punt-like. But OSU’s Emma Maltais reached high and blocked the outlet with her glove, and when the puck landed, she fired a 40-foot shot through a maze of players and into the net to make it 2-0.  

Nina Jobst-Smith score with a long shot after Soderberg had been pulled with over 3 minutes left, giving the Bulldogs 2:48 more to try for the equalizer, but the Buckeyes held them off. “I knew it would be that type of game,” said Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall. “To me, Duluth is one of the top four teams we’re played in the country. They are very tough defensively, well coached, and they have one of the greatest goaltenders in the country.”  

Ohio State, after outshooting UMD 36-27, lost 4-2 to Minnesota in the WCHA tournament final, but came out of it seeded No, 1 for the NCAA tournament, which starts this week with four WCHA teams — including UMD. The Bulldogs play right back at Ridder, facing Clarkson Friday night with that winner advancing to face Minnesota for the regional championship and a berth in the Frozen Four. Duluth’s chances of winning it depend greatly on Soderberg, again, and it  would be a neat story, because the Frozen Four is at AMSOIL Arena, where most observers are picking a Minnesota-Ohio State tournament final.  

Meanwhile, Romano Gym will provide us all the chance to see the UMD women’s basketball team play some more, The Bulldogs won the Northern Sun tournament and came out of that ranked No, 1 in the region, so they get to play host to an eight-team regional. They face South Nazarene in one of four Friday games, with semifinals Saturday, and the region final Monday night for a berth in the NCAA Division 2 elite eight.  

The UMD men also made the regional round, and will play Central Oklahoma in Maryville, Mo., this weekend.  

There was one other big game on the home front last Saturday, when St. Scholastica, fresh from winning its first MIAC season title, lost 4-1 to an aroused Augsburg team at mars-Lakeview Arena. The Auggies harnessed the Saints explosive first cinema and took a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Saints countered for a power-play goal by Vincent Weis, but Augsburg scored twice more in the second, and reversed the 4-1 score when the Saints whipped the Auggies in their final regular-season game.

Augsburg advances with the automatic NCAA Division 3 bid, while the Saints are left at home, after a fantastic season.