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Simonson's OT goal lifts Hibbing to 4-3 victory over Lumberjacks

CLOQUET -- Hibbing's girls high school hockey team was the first northern Minnesota team to reach elite status, and while the Bluejackets have dropped from Class AA to Class A this season, they proved on Tuesday night they aren't about to give up...

CLOQUET -- Hibbing's girls high school hockey team was the first northern Minnesota team to reach elite status, and while the Bluejackets have dropped from Class AA to Class A this season, they proved on Tuesday night they aren't about to give up their regional domination without a battle. Hibbing, the Section 7A favorite, beat 7AA favorite Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 4-3, although it took Krista Simonson's goal in overtime to do it.
The 'Jackets had control of the shot chart, outshooting Cloquet 40-12, but Johanna Ellison, Cloquet's flashy freshman goaltender, kicked out 36 of those shots, including seven in the overtime. And it was appropriate that the last two Hibbing goals were scored by Simonson, one of five seniors on the Hibbing roster and the only one who has played on all six teams since Hibbing started girls hockey.
Simonson, who recently accepted a scholarship offer to go to the University of Minnesota, was unstoppable on the game-winner, breaking up the slot for the net, catching a pass from Andrea Nichols and shooting from close range. Ellison blocked the first shot, but Simonson kept going and smacked her own rebound into the lower left corner of the net at 4:13 of the 8-minute overtime.
"We have been getting a lot of shots and rebounds, but we've had a hard time finishing," Hibbing coach Pete Hyduke said. "We said we've got to have the willpower to go to the net and put it in. That's exactly what Krista did. Krista has been playing for us since seventh grade, and she's the last member from the original Hibbing team to still be playing. She's played on every varsity team Hibbing has had, and she has not lost her love for the game."
The goal came on an extended Hibbing power play, a rarity in overtime. Michelle Maunu, Cloquet's highly skilled eighth-grade defenseman, was called for holding at 1:14 of overtime during a flurry of Hibbing shots. When she came out of the box at 3:14, she grabbed the puck and attacked, but someone had come off the bench, and the Lumberjacks were detected for having six skaters as well as a goaltender.
The Bluejackets went back to the attack, outshooting Cloquet 8-0 for the overtime, and pressed to the finish. "We haven't been getting any breaks, which is why we've been having so much trouble scoring," Hyduke said. "So if those penalties were the break we've worked so hard for, I'll take 'em."
Despite the wide disparity in shots, the game was tense all the way. Cloquet, with only one senior on the roster, has already beaten 7AA rivals Denfeld-Central and Duluth East, and coach Dick Bartholdi has followed Hibbing's concept of playing as many top Twin Cities teams as possible to become tournament hardened.
The Bluejackets got the jump in the opening minute, when Nichols scored with a rebound at 0:51 of the first period. Cloquet tied it 1-1 when Aubrey Thill went hard to the net as Monica Smith took a long pass from Whitney Roe and rushed up the right side. Smith sent a goal-mouth pass, and Thill took the puck and hurtled into the goal, puck and all, scoring at 7:24.
Liz Palkie, a Cloquet sophomore who scored two goals in the game, got her first at 0:27 of the second period, watching Tamara Price dash up the right side on an end-to-end rush. Price veered to the net for a shot that was blocked by Brittany Krause, Hibbing's eighth-grade goaltender, but Palkie jammed in the rebound for a 2-1 Lumberjack lead.
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Hibbing, however, responded with constant pressure, outshooting Cloquet 18-4 in the middle period. It took 10 minutes before the 'Jackets tied the game 2-2 when freshman Kayla Hagen -- the newest member on the Nichols-Simonson line -- spun free along the left boards and charged to the net to score on a goal-crashing power-play endeavor at 10:13. A 2-2 tie wasn't much reward for a 28-10 edge in shots through two periods, but it was an improvement on the 2-1 deficit.
"Cloquet has got a real good team," Hyduke said. "Both teams had to earn everything we got. Dick did a good job rotating three lines, just like we did. They're as deep as any team we've seen, and they're only going to get better by the end of the season by playing three lines."
With Ellison holding Cloquet in the game, Hibbing benefited by a broken play. A pass back to the point hopped a Cloquet defenseman's stick, and the Bluejackets capitalized with a rush by Nichols, the speedy junior who had earlier scored her 11th goal of the season. When her chance was blocked, Simonson got the puck in the slot and drilled her shot at 5:36 to put the 'Jackets ahead 3-2.
Bartholdi called time out to map out strategy in the closing minutes, and Palkie scored from the congestion in the slot with 1:56 remaining for the tie.
Hyduke, who moved up from assistant coach to take over this season, plays three lines. He also spots Simonson on defense frequently through the game, and when it comes to scoring, his big line has done most of the damage. Along with Nichols scoring 11, Hagen got her eighth goal, and Simonson's pair gives her seven. The Bluejackets had reason on Tuesday to appreciate No. 7 most of all.

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