April 2, 2021 at 11:54 a.m.
Mound Westonka’s Emily Wendorf scored the first goal of the game on a rebound from a blocked shot that Wildcat goalie Anna Hanson never saw at 6:23 of the first period. A minute-and-a-half later, Lawry passed the puck from behind the White Hawk net to Burgen standing at the left doorstep. Burgen backhanded it past White Hawk goalie Callie Nelson to tie the game at 1-1. Even though Mound Westonka outshot the Wildcats in the first period, play was pretty even. The Wildcats actually had better scoring opportunities than the White Hawks, but just didn’t get their shots on net.
In the second period, the Wildcats took penalties at 6:40 and 6:46 to give Mound Westonka a five-on-three advantage for nearly two minutes. The Wildcats nearly killed off both penalties, but Gretta Pioske scored with just six seconds left in the first penalty to go up 2-1. At 9:51, after a Mound Westonka shot and a save by Wildcat goalie Anna Hanson, the puck was laying in the crease and Sydney Leonard skated in and knocked it in the net to increase the White Hawk lead to 3-1. With just under five minutes to go in the period, the Wildcats came into the Mound Westonka zone three-on-one. Lawry took a shot that hit the right pipe and bounced straight out to Burgen, who slammed home the rebound to cut the White Hawk lead to 3-2. Wildcat head coach Dave Burgen said “in the locker room between the second and third periods, I told the girls our entire season hinges on this next 17 minutes, and that whichever team scores the next goal will win the game. We truly believe that if we tie things up we will keep the momentum going and win the game.”
The Wildcats had what looked like a sure goal early in the third period. Dani Brunette was standing at the back door and shot into what looked like an open net. But Nelson spun and stuck out her stick. The puck somehow hit the paddle of her stick and ricocheted out of harm’s way. The spectacular save kept the score at 3-2. But the Wildcats were not to be denied. Taking a faceoff in the right circle in the White Hawk zone, Burgen pushed the puck forward and picked it up behind the goal line. She sent a centering pass out in front of the net and curled around the back of the net, emerging on the left side. A Mound Westonka player trying to clear it passed it right to Burgen, and she shot the puck through the five-hole to tie the game at 3-3 at 10:10 of the period. With the Wildcats skating on the power play just 78 seconds later, Dani Brunette came down the right side into the Wildcat zone. As she headed towards the corner, she dropped the puck back to the trailing Lawry. At the half wall, Lawry turned left and cut through the middle of the right circle. When she got to the left edge, she snapped a shot through the five-hole to give the Wildcats a 4-3 lead. Burgen picked up the other assist on the goal.
With 1:52 left in the game, Brunette took a tripping penalty for the Wildcats. Mound Westonka took their timeout but inexplicably chose not to pull their goalie even though the faceoff was in the Wildcat zone. As the seconds ticked down, the White Hawks eventually pulled the goalie with less than a minute remaining. Mound Westonka nearly scored with 26 seconds to go, and as the puck was covered, the Wildcats took their timeout. Burgen said “I looked at Bob and Ron [assistant coaches Bob Truax and Ron Kimlinger] and asked if we should take our timeout. If we do, we give them a chance to strategize, but we also give our top line, who had played a lot of minutes, a chance to rest. We all seemed to agree, and I quickly took the timeout.”
The last 26 seconds were intense, as the White Hawks kept the puck in the zone to try to tie the game up. When Hanson covered the puck with 2.6 seconds left, there were a few players down on the ice in front of the Wildcat net. Mound Westonka’s Taylor Leonard smacked a prone Wildcat player in the back and was given a roughing penalty. When the White Hawks lined up for the ensuing faceoff, however, they appeared to still have six players on the ice. “Things were so crazy at that point, I didn’t even know they had called a penalty,” said Burgen. After the faceoff, Mound Westonka got off a quick shot that was saved and frozen by Hanson with 0.4 seconds left. Lawry took the faceoff in the right circle and dropped to the ice on her side to block any potential shot. The horn sounded and the Wildcats piled on each other in celebration. They were on their way to the semifinals.
The White Hawks outshot the Wildcats 26-22 for the game. Wildcat senior goalie Anna Hanson stopped 23 of the 26 shots she faced to pick up the win. Hanson was active when the puck was around the net, knocking the puck out of harm’s way several times and making some big saves to keep the Wildcats in the game.
Burgen talked about some players who didn’t show up on the scoresheet but played a key role in the win. He said “Senior defender Dylan Grilz played the best game I have ever seen her play. She was diving to keep pucks in the zone and seemed to have that senior mindset of ‘we’re not going to be done tonight’. And our second line did a great job. Their role is to shut down the other team’s best line, and any goals they score are a bonus. The girls seemed to have embraced their role.”
Dani Burgen joined an elite group with her state tournament hat trick. Dave Burgen, her proud father, said “You know, it just happened to be her night. She got a great pass on the first goal, scored on a rebound off the post on the second shot and had a great individual effort on the third one. But it could be any of the three on that top line, because that group shares the wealth. And when Jenna got the game winner, it was awesome.”
This was the first time in four state tournament appearances that the Wildcat girls’ hockey team has won their opening game.
Wildcat senior goaltender Anna Hanson has been nominated for the 2021 Herb Brooks Award. The Herb Brooks Award is given to the most qualified hockey player in Class A and Class AA, boys and girls, in the state tournament who strongly represents the values, characteristics, and traits that defined Herb Brooks. This prestigious award commemorates the unending influence Herb Brooks had on the sport of hockey in Minnesota and throughout the world.
Early in March, the Wildcats - playing their third game in four days - lost to Gentry, today’s opponent, 7-1. They can’t afford to get too far behind today against the deep Gentry lineup. Burgen is confident his team will play a much better game this time. He said “We are playing at our peak right now and will be well rested for today’s game. We are healthy, with no injuries to key players. We are battle tested, having played Breck, Orono and Mound Westonka – some of the top teams in the state – in our last three games.”
The winner of today’s game goes on to play the winner of today’s Warroad vs. Proctor/Hermantown game for the state championship this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Xcel.