Although the Forest Lake girls hockey team had beaten Grand Rapids/Greenway 6-0 on Jan. 14, head coach Todd Gutterman said he expected a much stronger challenge when the two teams met in a Section 7AA semifinal match on Feb. 11. He also predicted that one goal would separate the two state-ranked squads.
It turns out, Gutterman knew what he was talking about: The Rangers took an early lead, the Lightning stormed ahead in the second period, and the Rangers tied things up with a stunning third-period goal before winning the game in overtime, 5-4.
“(GRG) is a great hockey club,” Gutterman said. “I’m very proud of our kids; we persevered.”
Freshman Brooke Remington and junior Kayla Kasel scored first-period goals to put the Rangers up 2-0, though GRG’s Ty Bischoff pulled one back late in the period. Ranger goaltender Josie Bothun and Lightning netminder Paige Hemphill each made nine saves in an evenly fought opening frame.
Kasel scored again five minutes into the second period. For the rest of the period, the Lightning put the Forest Lake net under constant siege, outshooting the Rangers 15-7 overall. Between the 10th and 16th minutes, GRG scored three times to take a 4-3 lead.
“It was pretty basic between periods,” Gutterman said. “Stick to the process, do what we’ve done that’s got us here. They got us running in
the second period; we had to get back to what we do well.”
The Lightning had chances to put the game away in the third, but Bothun stood tall. In the seventh minute of the period, Bothun passed to junior Kenzie Rugland, who played senior captain Madi Nolan into the attacking zone. Nolan deked past Lightning defenseman Katie Adams to set up a close-range shot on Hemphill. Nolan slid across the face of the goal and stretched so far to her left that she lost her balance, but was able to fire off the game-tying shot as she crashed to the ice.
The Lightning called a timeout with two minutes to go, and a furious onslaught of attacks followed. Bothun kept the game tied, and the offensive drive ended when Sadie Peart was called for slashing, setting up a Ranger power play.
The advantage continued into the overtime period. Although the Lightning managed to kill off the power play, Kasel scored the game-winner on the Rangers’ very next attack, just 1:37 into the extra frame.
The Rangers also beat St. Francis/North Branch in the quarterfinals on Feb. 9: Rugland (two), Nolan, Rachel Golnitz and Brieja Parent scored in that game.
The Rangers are set to face Elk River/Zimmerman, rated No. 6 in the state poll, in the section championship at the Fogerty Arena in Blaine at 7 p.m. Feb. 16. The Rangers are currently ranked No. 12.
A year ago, the Rangers beat the Elks to take the section title. The Rangers lost to the Elks 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 22.
“We went to overtime last time, so that gives us confidence,” Gutterman said. “They’re a phenomenal team. They have three strong lines; they keep coming at you.”