State Tourney Insiders: Sights and sounds from Day 1 in St. Paul

We're updating this article all day and night from St. Paul with moments captured on and off the ice during Day 1:

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Youngsters lift Warroad in win over Proctor/Hermantown

An eighth-grader made it possible, and a sophomore made it happen.

Sophomore Taylor Reese scored in overtime, giving Warroad a 2-1 victory against Proctor/Hermantown in the last Class 1A state tournament quarterfinal Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center.

Taylee Manion, just an eighth-grader, scored a power-play goal with 40 seconds to play in regulation.

No. 4 Warroad (20-8), the two-time defending state tournament champion, also beat fifth seed Proctor/Hermantown (18-9-2) 2-1 in the season opener.

Senior Sophie Johnson scored her ninth goal of the season at 10:49 of the first period, giving Warroad a 1-0 lead .

That was where the score remained until Manion's big shot.

A lapse in concentration by Mirage skaters led to Warroad's overtime chance. All five headed to the bench at the same time, giving Reese, who exited the penalty box in search of redemption, a clear path.

"It was a bad change on our end," Mirage coach Emma Stauber said. "But those five had been out there for a while and were just trying to get off. But I'm proud of this group. A mistake at the end doesn't define us."

Ladies first: all-woman referee crew

A four-women crew working Wednesday morning's Class 1A quarterfinal between Orono and Willmar represented the first all-female group sent by the Suburban Hockey Referees Association.

Dan Walt, Suburban Hockey Referees Association director, said referee Kristin Moran and her daughter, Michelle McDonough, were officiating together. McDonough is a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Fairmont and still finds time to referee MSHSL and NCAA hockey. Moran is a former WHCA official with previous tournament experience.

Sarah Moe, the other referee, worked her third state tournament. Moe was the Division III National Player of the Year in hockey as a senior at Gustavus-Adolphus. Moe's daughter, Libby, is a freshman defender with Edina and playing in her first state tournament.

Carlye Veer also worked the Orono/Willmar game as a linesman.

The game of goalie

Warroad sophomore goaltender Payton Rolli outdueled Proctor/Hermantown sophomore goaltender Neelah McLeod even though McLeod made 33 saves to Rolli's 26.

"Our goalie stood on her head tonight," Proctor/Hermantown coach Emma Stauber said. "She kept it close enough to give us a chance to come back."

Holy Angels pulls away from Luverne

Senior forward Audrey Garton got Holy Angels off to a fast start Wednesday in its first tournament appearance since 2006. She tallied two goals in less than two minutes as the Stars led 2-0 after the first period.

The lead remained the same after 34 minutes. Luverne entered the third period just one shot from a one-goal game. But Garton said her team did not panic.

"We focused on staying in the moment," Garton said. "We weren't worried about the score."

Calli Holmes' third goal of the season bumped the Stars' lead to 3-0. Fellow junior Bella LaMere added her 23rd and 24th goals this season, pushing the Stars' advantage to 5-0.

The Holy Angels' trio of third-period goals came in less than two minutes.

LaMere finished her hat trick — her second of the season. Holy Angels (22-3-3) outshot Luverne 38-7 for the game. Hannah Woodley scored for the Cardinals (17-11).

Attendance, Day 1

The effects of a snowstorm that struck this time last winter showed in the first-day attendance. The day session drew 2,210 spectators Wednesday, the night session 1,436. Last year the day session stopped at 756, the night session at 1,070.

Luverne sophomore rains on Holy Angels goalie's parade

Luverne sophomore Hannah Woodley scored a power-play goal in the third period and spoiled a shutout bid by Holy Angels senior goalie Eva Bentley. She was less than 10 minutes from earning her fourth shutout this season.

Audrey Garton, double trouble

Good as Holy Angels' Audrey Garton is at hockey, she is equally adept at soccer. She won the Class 2A Ms. Soccer Award last fall but signed to play hockey at Minnesota State Mankato. Garton has 25 goals in hockey this season after burying 23 on the pitch.

Dodge County's two-year plan results in first tourney win

Dodge County girls hockey had a two-year plan for its team going back to last season, when the Wildcats hoped to reach the state tournament for the first time and "try to make a little bit of noise," said coach Jeremy Gunderson. Last season's plan got derailed with an overtime section-final loss to Albert Lea, but Dodge County finally reached the state quarterfinals this year.

Not only that, the third-seeded Wildcats got a victory, too, a 4-0 shutout of unseeded Fergus Falls in the second Class 1A girls hockey state tournament quarterfinal Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

"I think it's huge," Gunderson said. "This second year, which would be this year, we're going to come here and try to win the championship. We knew we had the kids in place with maturity and things taking place."

The hockey gods weren't necessarily with Dodge County in last year's section final, but that tide has already turned this season with a victory in the program's state tournament debut.

Senior forward McKenna LaFleur broke up the scoreless tie nearly six minutes into the second period, capitalizing on a Fergus Falls turnover behind its own net. The Otters cleared the puck, landing it right on the stick of LaFleur, who quickly scored her 14th goal of the season.

"That goal was huge," said junior forward Nora Carstensen. "It just kind of settled us all down."

Later in the second period, the Wildcats (22-4-0) scored on a 2-on-1 opportunity from neutral ice. Carstensen dished the puck over to freshman Maysie Koch, who finished the play with a wrist shot sending the puck upstairs to double the lead.

Dodge County leading scorer Carstensen pushed the lead to three goals early in the third period. Later, she picked a corner on the power play for her 33rd tally of the season and a 4-0 Wildcats lead.

Fergus Falls (15-12-1) senior goaltender Ana Jyrkas made 26 saves.

'Right now, we're going to win a state championship'

Dodge County coach Jeremy Gunderson knows his players believe in what they can do the rest of the tournament, and it's a belief that started right after a section-final loss last year.

"We've had that chip on our shoulder all the way through," Gunderson said. "Until after we finally won that section final, we had our first practice back, we still had the scoresheet. We went in the locker room and ripped it up, and said, 'It's done. We're moving forward. Right now, we're going to win a state championship.' "

Embracing the double zero

Dodge County junior goaltender Ida Huber can be spotted at her position in net, or just look for the jersey with two zeros on the back. It was the number she was given when she came to Dodge County.

"I've never heard of that number before," Huber said. "So, I was kind of like, 'What the heck is this?' But I've embraced it.

"It's a cool number. It's different, for sure, but I like it."

Wildcats experience range of emotions

Nora Carstensen was anxious in the opening period of Dodge County's first state tournament game.

She felt the nerves. She bobbled the puck. She tried telling herself it was just another game.

What advice did she give herself?

" 'Just tune everything out and just play your game,' " Carstensen said. "Came back in the second, and I was like, 'It's go time.' "

It was. Carstensen produced a three-point game, her 12th game of the season with at least three points.

When McKenna LaFleur finally got the Wildcats on the board with a goal a few minutes into the second period, the team's nerves settled down.

LaFleur said she was beaming on Wednesday when reflecting on finally reaching the state tournament. Before she left the locker room for the second quarterfinal of the day, LaFleur had a message for her teammates:

"We get up at 6 a.m. We put in work before school. We put in work after school. We miss social events. Growing up, our parents put forth thousands of dollars just for this one thing. And this is all that we wake up to achieve every single day, to be able to even be here is such a privilege.

"We finally earned something. We earned a spot at the state tournament. And to go out and to show people what we can do and do it for the girls in the locker room and do it for the coaches that have given everything to be here, it's just an amazing feeling."

Orono's 'deep breath'

After finishing second in Class 1A last year, Orono is hungry to return to the state title game. First, there was a quarterfinal victory to grab, which the Spartans did Wednesday in a 4-1 victory over Willmar.

"I think our [assistant] coach Claire [Bjerke] said it best in the locker room, to not take anything for granted," said Orono junior Zoe Lopez. "And this game was, I think, a great symbol of that. It's definitely a deep breath to get over and be able to now move on into Friday."

Lopez gave the No. 2 seed Spartans a 2-0 lead just before the first intermission, and Orono never trailed on the way to the win over unseeded Willmar in the day's first Class 1A quarterfinal game at Xcel Energy Center.

The Spartans took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period when sophomore Maddy Kimbrel took the puck in from the red line and popped a shot high, glove side for her team-leading 26th goal of the season. In the final 30 seconds of the period, Lopez forced a turnover in the high slot of Willmar's zone, skated to the circle and scored her 24th goal of the season to double her team's lead.

Early in the third period, Willmar just missed cutting into the deficit, with a shot off the pipe, only to have Orono junior Anika Fortin increase her team's lead to 3-0 about 20 seconds later. Willmar coach Eric Setrum said he and the players talked about putting more pressure on Orono.

"That's kind of the difference in games like this," Setrum said. "If you can get one of those bounces to go in instead of hit the pipe, it definitely would have changed the momentum for us."

But Willmar (20-8-0) got on the board with about 10 minutes to play in the third period when junior Lauren Eilers scored her team-leading 16th goal of the season with a backhand move in front of the net for a 3-1 score.

Willmar junior goaltender Erin Eilers, who entered the game with a .933 save percentage, made 35 saves to keep the score close. The loss ended Willmar's five-game winning streak.

The Spartans controlled play from there, not allowing Willmar to get much going in the closing minutes. Orono's Grace Bickett added an empty-netter in the final minute of the game.

'We're all extremely fast'

Orono employed a strategy likely to produce late-in-the-game success against Willmar, and it did.

"We were talking about quick shifts on the bench," sophomore Maddy Kimbrel said. "So, then you could get fresh legs out, because we're all extremely fast.

"I think we knew that if we just took quicker shifts, we would eventually tire them out because they'd get stuck out there and we'd keep them in their zone."

Willmar relies on Eilers twins

Willmar is still in search of a state quarterfinal victory after four trips to the tournament, this marking the first one since 2020. While this experience is new to most of the Cardinals, Lauren Eilers said, it's an exciting one, especially with her twin sister, Erin, in net.

"I would say it's an experience of a lifetime," Erin Eilers said. "Not many athletes really get to have it. Just to hang out with the seniors, one last ride. We came here, we're going to push it to our best. We're not done. We're going to finish strong."

Orono coach lands on a winner

Orono (21-6-1) is in its third consecutive trip to the state tournament, hoping to improve on third-place and runner-up finishes the past two years. Coach Paul Antonenko is in his first year leading the Spartans program.

"The first time I met with them, we talked about it being their team," Antonenko said. "They've all owned this team since the beginning of the season. They've actually improved, I think, a lot this year."

Orono to-dos for the semifinals

What does Orono need to keep in mind for the semis?

Coach Paul Antonenko: "We had a pretty long conversation about our forecheck. I think the girls weren't necessarily aggressive on their forecheck as I think they're going to need to be as they move forward into the next couple of games."

Orono's premise this season is to play well at the next level, keeping the players in the mindset that if they want to play college hockey, they have to play their game at a higher level and get out of their comfort zone, Antonenko said.

"They've done that a lot this year," Antonenko said. "That's probably the biggest thing is just continuing to push the envelope of getting them out of their comfort zone and pushing the pace."