Girls hockey Section 7A final: Larson an unlikely hero as Mirage hold off BluejacketsCLOQUET — While the rest of her teammates went through their pregame meditations in the locker room on Friday night at Northwoods Arena in Cloquet, Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey player Brielle Larson snuck back onto the ice and skated in front of one of the goals.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
CLOQUET — While the rest of her teammates went through their pregame meditations in the locker room on Friday night at Northwoods Arena in Cloquet, Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey player Brielle Larson snuck back onto the ice and skated in front of one of the goals.
With music blaring through her headphones, she visualized putting the puck into the top-right corner of the net.
Larson didn’t just get one goal on Friday, she got two, including one in just that fashion, in leading the Mirage to a 5-3 victory over Hibbing-Chisholm in the Section 7A championship before about 700 fans.
Larson, a sophomore center turned right winger, only had two goals during the regular season but already has three goals through two postseason games.
“I’ve been waiting the whole year for this,” Larson said. “I think it was worth the wait.”
Proctor-Hermantown (17-10) advances to the Class A quarterfinals on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, against an opponent to be determined after pairings are released this morning. It will be the second state tournament for the Mirage, who advanced in 2010 as a Class AA team.
Proctor-Hermantown fans couldn’t rest easy against Hibbing-Chisholm until sophomore forward Sophie McGovern launched a shot from neutral ice that found an empty net with 45 seconds to play.
“It’s never easy against Hibbing — ever,” Proctor-Hermantown coach Glen Gilderman said.
Proctor-Hermantown set the early tone but then had to respond to one Hibbing-Chisholm comeback after another. No lead was seemingly safe against the Bluejackets (12-13-2), the defending section champions and a perennial Northern Minnesota girls hockey power.
The Mirage took a 4-1 lead late in the third period on a goal by Mikayla Kero, only to have Hibbing-Chisholm storm back with a pair of power-play goals, one by Raini Heyblom just 15 seconds before the second intermission and another by Mallorie Iozzo 10 minutes into the third.
“We have a lot of character on this team. They’ve got grit,” Hibbing-Chisholm coach Pete Hyduke said. “We played hard and we didn’t quit, but give credit to Proctor-Hermantown. This was a great championship game. Both teams forechecked hard, both attacked the net and both goalies came up with great saves. It just wasn’t our turn.”
Hibbing-Chisholm finished 3-for-3 on the power play, so the difference was even strength, where Proctor-Hermantown had a decided edge, in particular goalie Kyle Hommerding. The senior finished with 25 saves — including a couple of big ones in the closing minutes — as the Mirage held on just long enough for McGovern to seal it.
“Kylie shut the door,” Gilderman said.
Gilderman described Friday’s showdown between the section’s top seeds as a tennis match, with back-and-forth action, but Hyduke used another sports analogy.
“I’d say more like a heavyweight fight,” Hyduke said. “Anybody who says girls hockey isn’t a physical game should have seen this one.”
And nobody took harder hits than Mirage star Reilly Fawcett, including a shot with 9.1 seconds remaining that got Bluejackets senior forward Erin Scovill disqualified for boarding.
“Reilly is okay. She isn’t feeling anything right now,” Gilderman said, laughing. “She accomplished the goal she has been waiting for since she went down to state in eighth grade.”
For Larson, Friday was the apex of a roller-coaster hockey journey that saw her move to different towns and schools.
“What a great story,” Gilderman said.
Larson used to live in Alexandria, Minn., and started ninth grade at Duluth Denfeld. She played briefly with the Duluth Northern Stars last season but wasn’t enjoying hockey as much as she knew she could, so she transferred to Hermantown. She had to sit out an entire year because of transfer rules.
Larson started the year off slowly and was moved to wing midseason so speedy sophomore Reilly Albert, who was on defense, could play center. If Larson was disappointed with the switch, there was no telling by her comments on Friday.
“I just feel like this was meant to be,” Larson said. “This team is like a big family, and I just love them all. They’re amazing.”
First period — 1. PH, Reilly Fawcett (Jillayne Gilbert), 5:46.
Second period — 2. HC, Val Gooden (Maddy Roberts), 5:43 (pp); 3. PH, Brielle Larson (Emma Olson), 10:19; 4. PH, Larson (Mikayla Kero), 12:12; 5. PH, Kero (Gilbert), 15:55; 6. HC, Raini Heyblom (Nichole DeBoom), 16:45 (pp).
Third period — 7. HC, Mallorie Iozzo (Erin Scovill, Heyblom), 10:17 (pp); 8. PH, McGovern (Gilbert), 16:15 (en).
Saves — Megan Frider, HC, 25; Kylie Hommerding, PH, 25.