REDWOOD FALLS - Those hoping for a tightly contested, low-scoring affair in the Section 3A girls hockey championship game Thursday night might have left Redwood Falls disappointed.
In a game that resembled more of an NHL All-star game than a section title game, New Ulm outlasted Luverne 11-6 to earn the school's fifth straight Section 3A championship.
What started out like a normal hockey game finished as a shootout. The teams traded goals quite frequently in the third period as nine goals were scored in that final 17 minutes.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Members of the New Ulm girls hockey team celebrate after defeating Luverne in the Section 3A Championship game Thursday in Redwood Falls.
New Ulm freshman Brook Schugel was unstoppable yet again. Schugel scored five goals, including four in the third period, to help answer every Luverne effort late in the game. She also had two assists. The five-goal game gives her eight goals in two playoff games this season.
Junior Lexie Weiss, who is going to the state tournament for the fourth time in her career, helped the Eagles' cause with three assists and a goal. Freshman Brittany Denn finished with three goals, two of them in the first period.
After the game, the Eagles did the postgame celebration, took a team photo, and let out a collective sigh of relief.
"We did not expect that they'd have that many goals," Weiss said. "It was a little scary, but we came together as a team and had to stick with our defensive play."
"It was really nerve-wracking, especially after the fifth year in a row playing the exact same team, knowing they're going to be a hard team to beat and it's going to be a battle," junior Kali Denn said. "We really came out strong and we were able to pull it together."
While Schugel did a good share of the damage late, she also did some damage early, scoring the game's first goal on a breakaway attempt with 15:23 left in the first period. About seven minutes later, Morgan Schaefer picked up a rebound in front of the net and fired it past Luverne goalie Kennedy Gonnerman for the 2-0 lead, and Brittany Denn's goal put the Eagles up 3-0 just 13 seconds later.
Luverne's Morgan Hohn scored her first of three goals and Brittany Denn scored one more time in the period. The Eagles held a 4-1 lead after the first period and it looked like they were going to comfortably skate back to St. Paul for another tournament run.
"That really helps that we got a cushion kind of, to know that we can make some mistakes and it's alright if we do," Schugel said. "It's a great feeling."
"That helped ease the nerves, and then you get yourself going and pumped," Weiss said of the first-period lead.
But the Cardinals had other thoughts and didn't let New Ulm run away quite so easily.
Brittany Denn put the Eagles up 5-1 and a goal by Weiss made it 6-1 in the second period before Hohn cut into the lead again heading into the third period.
At that point, both teams were finding the back of the net regularly. Luverne's Monique Aanenson scored to cut the lead to 6-3, but every time the Cardinals scored, Schugel seemed to have an answer.
She scored her first of four third-period goals with 15:29 left. After Luverne scored again to make it 7-4, Schugel answered with two more, including a goal from the blue line, to put New Ulm up 9-4.
"She has so much heart for the game," Kali Denn said. "Just her going out there, she knows that she has to do it and she gives it her all every single shift and that really helps our team out to remain confident."
The Cardinals added two more consecutive goals to cut it to 9-6, but Schugel and Mackenzie Depew closed out the scoring for the game to send the Eagles back to Xcel Energy Center next week.
Bailey Landreville had 31 saves and Gonnerman stopped 29 New Ulm shots.
"We knew that whenever they scored, we had to come back and score again," Schugel said. "We had to shut them down, it was an overall fun game."
The Eagles find out who they play next this weekend when all of the teams are known for the upcoming tournament. The top four teams are seeded and a random draw determines who each of the top four teams will play and what time they will play on Wednesday.
New Ulm improved to 14-10-1 on the season and the Cardinals end their season at 15-5.