State girls hockey: Zhan leads Hill-Murray to 2A semifinal win

It has been said a goaltender has to be your best defender.

Grace Zhan was just that for Hill-Murray on Friday night, stopping 36 shots in leading the Pioneers to a 3-1 win over Andover in a Class 2A girls’ hockey semifinal at Xcel Energy Center.

Seeking its first title since 2015, and third overall, No. 2 Hill-Murray gets top-seeded Minnetonka or No. 4 Edina in Saturday’s 7 p.m. final.

“First period was very good for the Pioneers. After that Grace played amazing,” said coach John Pohl.

Ella Hornung, Jaycee Chatleain and Elliana Engelhardt had early goals, and Chloe Boreen had a couple of assists for Hill-Murray which was outshot 37-16, including 31-7 in the final two periods.

Shot attempts were 87-32 Andover; 67-15 combined in the second and third periods.

“Just didn’t have that puck luck a little bit to have the puck go in tonight,” said Andover coach Melissa Volk.

This is the first time in five years the Huskies will not play for the crown. The program was 2-2 in the previous four finals.

Young and fast, Hill-Murray (25-3-1) had little trouble with Andover’s physical attack early taking a 3-1 first-period lead, including goals by Hornung and Chatleain before the Huskies had a shot on goal.

The last two periods were dominated by Andover (22-5-3), as the Huskies did everything offensively except beat Zhan.

Andover had a 21-2 shots on goal advantage in the second period. Conversely, Hill-Murray, which shifted more into a dump the puck offensive mindset, did not have a shot on goal for the final 11:44.

“We did not want to play overly conservative or sit back, but we just really wanted to make sure pucks got deep because their defensemen were making those long stretch passes,” Pohl said.

Zhan, a finalist for the 2024 Senior Goalie of the Year, had to be at her best with nearly all of the middle period spent in the Pioneers’ zone. Often getting good looks at the shooter, she was routinely leaning left, sliding right, even doing the splits while sitting down in the crease.

A Dartmouth commit, Zahn has a 1.36 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Zahn said she routinely sees “a couple hundred” shots at practice while keeping a simple mindset. “My job is to stop the puck, make the save, then focus on the next save. Today I just did a pretty good job I believe.”

Two of her best saves came in the third period: robbing Maya Engler on a perfect Huskies setup with about 6 minutes to go and a right pad save on Cailin Mumm 30 seconds later.

Andover kept up the pressure for much of a late power play, but Zhan continued to stand her ground, before Hornung blocked a shot — she finished with a team-high seven — near the blue line and sent the puck all the way down the ice.

“We were just focused on keeping them out of the middle,” Hornung said.

Andover and Hill-Murray split two regular-season contests: the Pioneers won 2-0 Dec. 22, and the Huskies countered with a 6-2 win Jan. 13.

Hill-Murray’s speed was something Andover struggled with early.

Boreen did everything but get the goal as the Pioneers took an early 1-0 lead. Carrying into the Andover zone, she raced past a defender and got off a shot. Corralling the rebound in stride, Boreen circled the net and passed to Hornung in front for a tap-in.

Boreen fed Chatleain for a power-play goal less than two minutes later for a 2-0 lead.

Mackenzie Jones scored on a power-play for Andover, but Hill-Murray regained a two-goal lead 25 seconds later when Engelhardt charged down the slot and converted a feed from Chatleain.