Most of the people at the “hockey rinks” are there for the love of the sport. It is just expected. But every once in a while you see a person whose love of the sport just jumps out and startles you.
It makes you glad that you saw them or her in this case at the hockey rink.
Saturday afternoon at the Coon Rapids Outdoor Ice Rink, the Coon Rapids High School girls team played the Blaine Bengals. It was a charity game to raise money for Minnesota Warriors Hockey Organization that plays out of Vadnais Heights Sports Center.
The Minnesota Warrior Hockey teams are comprised of players that have served honorably in the US Military and have a disability as a result of active duty. Go green and white.
The game was played in 16 degree temperature at the start of the game. The temperature was slowly falling during the game and ended nearer 10 degrees. The wind was strong enough to pick up skate shavings on the ice and start small snow drifts in northeast end of the rink.
Television was there and game was broadcast on FM radio. If you stood close to the announcer, you were out of one wind.
The game started under cloudy mid-afternoon skies, part of the second period was played with low southwesterly sun on the ice, and the final period played in twilight under the lights. It was, after all, outdoor hockey.
Blaine was the favorite, coming into the game with a 12-8 record and in third place in the Northwest Suburban Conference. Coon Rapids had been struggling near the bottom of the Northwest Conference and had an overall season record of 5-14.
The outdoor ice was refrigerated and in the 16 degree weather, was crisp, clean and hard. That hardness meant the puck would move fast, faster than on an indoor sheet.
It became apparent in the first period that Blaine was not used to the speed generated by the hard ice. They were not skating at Coon Rapids’ tempo. Their passing was off and being picked off.
Both teams played the first few minutes of the first period stiffly. The players were adjusting to the playing conditions and it showed. Most of the play lacked offensive focus as the teams moved the puck from end to end and changed lines.
At the 9 minute mark, the Coon Rapids team started to assert itself. They controlled the puck in the neutral zone and started to play a high center checking game that took away the Bengals breakout plays. Still the Cardinals could not convert from the slot to the net. The Bengals defense tied them up low and forced the Cardinals to the perimeter.
With 2 minutes left in the first period, the Cardinals’ Bailey Ryan finally scored. She took a shot from inside the Bengals’ blue line center left and beat the Bengals’ goalie Courtney Jensrud to put the Rapids up 1-0. Kate Fredrickson got the assist. The first period ended that way. The Cardinals out shot the Bengals 11-7.
The Bengal fans were stating to mutter something about “taking away the advantage of a good team”.
The second period opened with Coon Rapids continuing to pressure Blaine in the Bengals’ zone. It resulted in a second Cardinal goal. This time, the Rapids forward got an attack going low with the puck rebounding around the Bengals’ net. The Bengals defense got caught out of position, resulting in Britni DelCastillo scoring from the top of the crease. Allie Stalboerger got the assist.
Coon Rapids 2-0 lead didn’t last long. Blaine started to adjust to the speed and started to dominate the play.
The Bengals’ defense started taking away the passing game of the Cardinals in center ice, a sign that the Coon Rapids team was slowing. But the Bengals could not get untracked until two outstanding plays by the Bengals Amy Schlagel.
Two minutes after the Cardinals scored, Schlagel picked up the puck behind the Cardinal net and turned the left corner of the goal while switching from a frontal attack to skating backwards. The Cardinal goalie expecting pressure off the left corner was unprepared for a left crease shot and partially screened by her defense. Schlagel banged in a high hard shot to score unassisted and cut the Rapids lead to 2-1.
A mark of a good player is how they understand continuity in a game. Schlagel does. Five minutes later, Schlagel picked the puck up behind the Cardinal net and came around the same left corner without hesitation. She scored on a wraparound as the Cardinal goalie hesitated and was caught in an upright position. The goalie was thrown off stride by the first goal. The second unassisted goal tied the game 2-2 halfway through the second period.
With 6 minutes left in the second period, the key play of the game was started. It was triggered by a Blaine interference penalty. It was the first penalty of the game for either team and it was costly for the Bengals.
Coon Rapids scored a power play goal with 2 seconds left in the power play.
The Bengals simply lost focus on the penalty kill as it neared the end. They over shifted to the right side in their zone and a simple Coon Rapids shot on the goal ended up all alone and unattended by the Bengals in the front crease area.
Bailey Ryan banged the puck into the net to give the Rapids a 3-2 lead. It was Ryan’s second goal of the game. Emily Tronson and Kate Frederickson got the assists.
Fatigue in cold weather can cause a loss of focus. The Bengals lost focus on that power play.
A minute later, the Coon Rapids drew a 5 minute major for head contact. The Bengals could not get their power play rolling in the last three minutes of the second period. Except one brief flurry, the Cardinals held Blaine scoreless. The second period ended 3-2 with Coon Rapids in the lead.
Blaine’s power play in the opening minutes of the third period was not effective. Coon Rapids defense kept the Bengals from pressuring the Cardinal’s net. A Bengal penalty with a minute to go in the Rapids’ major penalty, created a four on four situation. Blaine had the edge, but Coon Rapids return to full strength put the Bengals back on the defensive.
With 9 minutes gone in the period, Coon Rapids scored the clinching goal. Hiedi Hannula beat the Blaine defense in the right corner, cut to the right crease and let fly with a shot that beat the Blaine goalie high. Hannula paid the price by being taken out by the Bengal left side defense. As she watched the puck go into the net, she was knocked backwards.
Trailing 4-2, the Bengals started play aggressively and the Rapids started to play defensively.
As a result most of the last 8 minutes of the game were played in the Cardinals zone.
The Bengals pressured goalie Ali Weber as they started to get multiple scoring opportunities down low. Weber hung in until Blaine’s Abby Vogel shot from just inside the Cardinal’s blue line. The puck ended up bouncing through Weber’s 5-hole with the help of Blaine’s Amy Schlagel’s stick. Schlagel poked at the puck just as it hit Weber’s pads. Kiersten Falck got the assist.
Down 4-3 with under two minutes left in the game and the puck in the right corner of the Rapids’ zone, Blaine pulled their goalie. Just as she hit the bench, the Cardinals Ryan picked up a loose puck in the corner and let fly with a 180 foot shot for the fifth and final goal. It game Ryan a hat trick. Coon Rapids upended the Bengals 5-3.
The loss may have hurt the Bengals in the Section 5AA seeding. It drops Blaine out of contention for the #1 or #2 seed. Mounds View and Andover appear to have a lock on those two seeds. It also knots the Bengals into a 4 way tie with Irondale, Champlin Park, and Anoka. For Coon Rapids, the game more about pride; but as a result of the win, the Cardinals could move to a seventh seed and avoid playing a play-in game.
After the game, YHH spoke with Jessica Christopherson, the Coon Rapids head coach. Back in December, we meet her at the Coon Rapids facilities. Her enthusiasm for hockey is there for all to see as is the level of commitment she has for the Coon Rapids program.
She was happy with the game and the way her players played the game especially in the first period. She was quick to proudly point out how they did not give up after being tied 2-2 in the second period. They came back to win the game.
When asked the tough question of what makes her players commit to the sport and stay with it through all four years of high school, she started to answer “for the love of the sport” and then paused and said it was more than that. “There are 5 sibling pairs on this team and they have grown up playing hockey together, it is that love of the family, the camaraderie that makes them want to play the game together”.
Having watched her for a few minutes talking and dealing with the players in the hubbub after the game, one can see that she is the source of much of that.