Welcome to the big show

Ranger assistant Paul Bailey (left) and head coach Ryan Sauter celebrate and players rush the ice as time expires in the Section 7AA title game. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Ranger assistant Paul Bailey (left) and head coach Ryan Sauter celebrate and players rush the ice as time expires in the Section 7AA title game. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

FL hockey girls win section title, head to state

 

Eighth-grader Kaitlyn VanTassel prepares for a faceoff during the section championship last Thursday. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Eighth-grader Kaitlyn VanTassel prepares for a faceoff during the section championship last Thursday. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

Forest Lake fans packed the stands at Blaine’s Fogerty Arena for the Section 7AA girls’ hockey championship against Elk River/Zimmerman last Thursday night. They cheered the Rangers to a 3-2 victory and a state tournament appearance.

The Elks set the tone for an exciting matchup by scoring just over a minute into the game, but Ranger eighth-grader Kaitlyn VanTassel tied it up off a rebound in the crease soon after on a power play. Senior Amy Enrooth recorded an assist on the play.

In the second period, Enrooth came charging out of the penalty box on the right side and cut hard to the middle, taking advantage of a slow-transitioning Elk River defensive line. The forward sped down ice to receive a pass from sophomore Mady Muntifering and gave the Rangers the lead by scoring on a breakaway.

Junior Alexa Bremer would add what assistant coach Paul Bailey calls a “classic power-play goal” by freeing a trapped puck and tapping it past the Elk River goalie off passes from Enrooth and senior Lexi Carpenter in the third period. The score gave Forest Lake the cushion it needed when an Elk forward goal snuck the puck through with six minutes remaining.

Senior Abbi White kept her team in the lead with another stellar performance in net, posting 35 saves.

Immediately after Forest Lake ran down the clock, head coach Ryan Sauter and Bailey locked in a hug before congratulating the girls.

“I just looked at Bails and smiled,” Sauter said. “I knew we could do it, but I can’t believe it happened so soon. But then again, why not? Why not now?”

The second-year head coach said his team has worked tirelessly on and off the ice to improve from its overall record of 5-18-3 last season in order to bring a sense of pride back into the Forest Lake girls’ hockey community. The 15-10-2 record speaks for itself, as does the first state appearance since 2001. Sauter said the post-game chatter proved the long practices have paid off.

“Everyone was saying how they were proud to be part of the group that brought us back to a higher level of respect,” Sauter said. “Forest Lake hockey was part of that culture of mediocrity where you just show up and play, and as long as you’re having fun, that’s okay. We’ve really worked on what it’s going to take to gain that respect back.”

Prepping for state

Following Monday’s practice, Sauter congregated with Bailey and junior varsity coach Rick Shelafoe to review the Elk River matchup and discuss the first-round game taking place today, Feb. 21, against No. 4 Eden Prairie.

Although Forest Lake did not face the Eagles during regular-season play, Sauter and Bailey said talk from other coaches around the state say they resemble a gritty Mounds View squad, who the Rangers lost to twice this season (3-1 in early December and 2-0 in January).

The Rangers are also focusing on their defensive zone coverage and taking space away from opposing forwards to prepare for the slightly speedier Eagles. Along with closing Monday’s practice with a game-simulation drill designed to highlight any defensive weaknesses or mental lapse, the Forest Lake girls also went up against the Ranger boys’ team a few times last week to further push their on-ice performance.

“It’s a cliche, but it’s accurate: ‘defense wins championships,’” Sauter said.

On the offensive side, the Forest Lake coaches have a chart in their office to showcase the importance of scoring more than just one goal per game this season.

In games where the Rangers scored one goal or less, the girls are 0-5. Their record is 5-3 in matchups where they recorded two goals, and 5-2-2 when scoring three. Both Sauter and Bailey said the magic number to win a girls’ hockey game is four goals, and they’re right. In games where the team earns four or more goals, Forest Lake is 5-0.

The Rangers enter state as the No. 7 seed. No. 2-seed Eden Prairie defeated fifth-ranked Edina for the Section 2AA championship last Friday. The Eagles are currently 20-5-3, losing all five games in the second half of their season, while six of Forest Lake’s 10 losses occurred before mid-December.

While the Rangers face a top-five state squad, Sauter and Bailey said the team, namely seniors like Enrooth, White and Carpenter, are determined to continue their season.

“Those girls are excited to go to state for the first time, but they are still working hard,” Sauter said. “They want to keep playing and they want more— they are looking forward to playing where the big boys play and leaving their legacy of a better now.”

The first-round state tournament game against Eden Prairie is at 11 a.m. today, Feb. 21, at the Xcel Energy Center.

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