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Prep girls hockey: Top-ranked Andover finally pulls away but Mirage starting to come into focus

Proctor-Hermantown, the defending Class A champions, sees a lot to like heading into playoffs.

Proctor/Hermantown's Ava Anick handles the puck.
Proctor/Hermantown's Ava Anick moves the puck up the ice during the Mirage's 4-2 loss Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Hermantown.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune
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HERMANTOWN — Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey goalie Abby Pajari was really sick recently, to the point where she missed Monday’s game with Moose Lake Area.

No, no, no, this had nothing to do with COVID-19.

This was having a cold, throwing up and feeling downright miserable, good ol’ fashioned sick.

Pajari, a senior, was back between the pipes for the Mirage Friday night in their showdown with undefeated Andover, Minnesota’s top-ranked Class AA team, and while they didn’t net a victory, they certainly proved their mettle as part of Senior Night.

Madison Brown scored a pair of goals and Andover finally pulled away from Proctor-Hermantown for a 4-2 nonconference victory before a nice crowd of upwards of 500 people at Hermantown Hockey Arena.

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Pajari finished with 41 saves for the Mirage, Minnesota’s third-ranked Class A team, despite still not feeling 100%.

Proctor/Hermantown's Abby Pajari makes a save.
Proctor/Hermatown's Abby Pajari, 32, makes a save during the Mirage's loss to top-ranked Andover Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Hermantown.
Jamey Malcomb / File / Duluth News Tribune

“We’re really pumped right now and we’re ready to finish off the rest of the season strong,” Pajari said. “We’ve got three more games before playoffs; and right now, after that game, we really have the momentum and the confidence to do really well in the playoffs and go to state.”

Pajari was asked if she ever felt better after a loss, and she said the closest was last week’s 1-0 loss to Edina. The Hornets handed Andover its only loss of the season last year, 2-1, in the Class AA state title game.

“We’re not proud of a loss, but in a way, those are the games we’re just happy to keep up with those big double-A schools like that,” she said.

The Huskies (22-0), who have outscored opponents by nearly a 5-1 margin this season, came out flying in the first period. They had 6-1 and 10-2 advantages in shots before Proctor-Hermantown (14-7-1) took advantage of penalties to cut the gap.

The teams went into the second period scoreless before the second period got offensive. Brown scored after the Mirage had a defensive lapse on the faceoff, leaving Pajari defenseless. Proctor-Hermantown stormed back to take a 2-1 lead on goals by Izy Fairchild and Reese Heitzman, only for Andover sophomore Cailin Mumm to score the equalizer at 13:13 in the second as the teams went into the second intermission tied.

Proctor-Hermantown's Hanna Graves handles the puck.
Proctor-Hermantown's Hannah Graves competes for the puck during the Mirage's 4-2 loss to Andover Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

“We fought through some adversity out there but we’re glad the girls came out on top,” Andover coach Melissa Volk said. “I thought they played great. I think we sent a lot of soft muffins at her pads there, but credit to the Mirage goalie, she played great. She kept them in the game.”

While Andover graduated 11 seniors from last year, essentially making this an entirely new team, the expectations are the same, and that’s to win. The Huskies are bolstered by freshmen who were part of their 15-U state championship team from last winter.

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“Our kids are young, but they’re hungry,” Volk said. “Proctor-Hermantown will be tough to beat in their section. It was good that we finally executed on that last power play.”

With a player advantage, Andover’s Nora Sauer scored the game-winner on a perfect pass from Courtney Little at 6:14 in the third and Brown added a late empty-netter for the final margin.

Sauer scored on a 2-on-1. Pajari knew what the Huskies were up to and appeared to be in great position, though she didn’t think so. The puck somehow snuck by her.

“I felt like I was a little deep in the net, but I’m really hard on myself over things like that,” Pajari said.

Her coach was a little more forgiving.

“Abby was phenomenal,” Mirage coach Emma Stauber said.

Of course there are things to work on. There are always things to work on.

Proctor-Hermantown will savor this loss, if there were such a thing, knowing the Mirage are getting better — and healthier — at the right time of year.

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“Our girls did a really good job of getting hyped up. They always do for these games,” Stauber said. “It’s an opportunity for us to show who we are. That’s the word that we use — opportunity — and they took advantage of it.”

Andover 0-2-2—4

Proctor-Hermantown 0-2-0—2

First period — No scoring.

Second period — 1. A, Madison Brown (Ella Boerger), 3:03; 2. PH, Izy Fairchild (Jane Eckstrom, Ava Anick), 7:11 (pp); 3. PH, Reese Heitzman (Nya Sieger, Anick), 10:58; 4. A, Cailin Mumm (Isa Goettl), 13:13.

Third period — 5. A, Nora Sauer (Courtney Little), 6:14 (pp); 6. A, Brown (Goettl), 16:21 (en).

Saves — Courtney Stagman, A, 24; Abby Pajari, PH, 41.

Mirage celebrate a goal.
Proctor/Hermantown players celebrate Reese Heitzman's second-period goal during a home game against Andover Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnew.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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