More than 2,700 Forest Lake fans traveled to the Xcel Energy Center last Thursday to watch the Ranger girls take on hockey powerhouse Eden Prairie in the first round of the state tournament.
Despite the cheering section and Ranger pep band, Forest Lake couldn’t hold the offensive attack and defensive stoppage of the Eagles.
Just 1:30 into the first period, the second-ranked Eden Prairie squad took a 1-0 lead off a neutral zone attack. The Eagles didn’t let down and by three minutes into the game, the Rangers were down 2-0.
They wouldn’t recover. Eden Prairie fired 35 shots on Forest Lake goalie Abbi White while the Rangers took eight shots.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle,” head coach Ryan Sauter said. “They are well-coached, have a lot of speed and a lot of skill. We needed to play well defensively and we just weren’t up to that task. I think nerves definitely got the best of us.”
With the loss, Forest Lake moved on to face Eagan (18-9-1), home of hockey standout Megan Wolfe.
Wolfe and the Wildcats proved another tough job for the Ranger defense. Still, the outcome seemed unclear as Eagan had outshot Forest Lake 26-5 at the end of the second period, but had just a one-score lead at 1-0.
The Rangers tasted success early in the third when junior Alexa Bremer shot and scored to give her team a chance with the tying goal.
Sauter put eighth-graders Kaitlyn VanTassel and Madi Nolan, Bremer and junior Rachel Skoglund on the ice six minutes later with a four-on-three advantage. They delivered.
With Skoglund and Bremer on point, Skoglund shot with VanTassel camping out in the crease to tip in the puck for the score and go-ahead goal.
But a 2-1 lead wouldn’t be enough, as a Wildcat shot angled off White’s chestpad to tie it up at two with five minutes remaining.
Just a minute later, Eagan scored again and sealed the victory and advancement to the consolation championship. They went on to defeat North Wright County for the consolation title.
“Of course they were broken-hearted,” Sauter said. “They were so close to playing another day and had that opportunity right in front of them. There were a lot of stoic faces not really comprehending what had just happened.”
White, a senior, stopped 49 shots on goal, adding to her already stellar save percentage of 0.932 that earned her all-metro third team honors.
VanTassel led the Rangers this season in points with 12 goals and 25 assists.
The Rangers closed their season at 15-12-2 overall with a Section 7AA title and state bid. Sauter said he is proud of the girls, but wants them to keep pushing themselves to reach an even higher level of play.
“I look back and, yes, we were very successful compared to the last two years,” Sauter said. “We had a closing Champion’s Culture meeting last night and asked the girls what they thought made the difference. A lot of them said we’re playing more as a team. It’s not so much individuals out there going after point totals—it’s a team effort to save the team. But, they can’t be fine with just making it to state, we’re still not quite there yet.”