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Prep girls hockey: Defense carries Hilltoppers heading into playoffs

Duluth Marshall goaltender Carissa Mudrak (30) deflects a shot on goal during a recent game against Hayward-Ashland at Mars Lakeview Arena. The Hilltoppers are seeded No. 1 in Section 7A. (Clint Austin /

Duluth Marshall girls hockey coach Sean Storie laughed when asked what happened last week against Thief River Falls.

“I don’t know,” he said.

At least Storie has kept his sense of humor about it. The normally stingy Hilltoppers, who closed the regular season by getting thumped 6-2 by the Prowlers, are now looking forward to putting that game behind them as the No. 1 seed in the Section 7A playoffs.

The six goals were the most Marshall had allowed all season and were three times the Hilltoppers’ average goals against.

“Momentum in girls hockey changes really quick, and it’s harder to get that back, I’m learning,” Storie said. “You can’t change the momentum with one hit (like with boys hockey). We just took that third period off. It was one of those games, you know Murphy’s law, if something’s going to go wrong, it did.”

Better to get the clunker out of the way during the regular season than now.

“Exactly, and that’s what I told everybody,” Storie said. “Sometimes it’s good just to hit the reset button.”

Marshall (17-8) opens against No. 8 North Shore (7-18) at 7 p.m. today at Mars Lakeview Arena.

“The section is so wide open this year,” Storie said. “Take a look at North Shore. They played us tough this year and have one of the section’s best players in Jessie Ketola. That’s a scary No. 8 seed.”

Storie fancies himself an offensive-minded coach. He’s a fan of the European style of play and has an appreciation for the great Red Army teams of the Soviet era and how fluid they were with the puck. The Hilltoppers, however, have been anything but offensive, averaging just 2.88 goals per game.

“You hold a team to three goals, you’d think we’d be able to score four,” he said.

That hasn’t always been the case. Marshall is only in its third season since resuming its varsity program. With only two seniors, the Hilltoppers are still young and lack that gifted goal-scorer teams envy. They win with grit and balance, usually rolling three lines.

The Hilltoppers have returned to good health, so that should help.

“They’re all pretty close friends, and they worry about each other a lot, which is great,” Storie said. “But we just have to learn how to fight through tough situations a little bit better.”

Freshman Gracie Thomas leads the team with 13 goals, while junior Emily Lemker (8 goals, 9 assists, 17 points) and sophomore Tori Thorson (7-8—15) also have provided some offense.

The Hilltoppers counter with one of the best goalies in the area in sophomore Carissa Mudrak, who leads the Northland with a 1.82 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and five shutouts. They also have experience and talent along the blue line in Maren Friday, just a freshman but already one of the best defensemen in the area, as well as juniors Lily Aamodt, Claire Boettcher and Helaina Orn, and sophomore Bella Kartch.

Mudrak described the Thief River Falls game as an aberration.

“We haven’t had a game like that in a long time, but we’re ready to go now,” she said. “We don’t score a whole ton. We can generate offense, but sometimes we struggle with the actual scoring part, but the girls are working hard and getting better.”

And if necessary, Mudrak is ready to pitch a shutout.

“Like with any good goalie, you start at zero, and you want to end at zero,” she said. “But if it doesn’t happen, you try to keep it to one or two at the most. Being young isn’t an excuse anymore. This is our time, so we should go out there and do this.”

Section 7AA

GRG earns No. 3 seed

No. 8 Duluth (7-15-2) plays at No. 1 Andover (18-6-1) at 7 p.m. today in Section 7AA, while

No. 3 Grand Rapids-Greenway (16-8-1) hosts No. 6 St. Francis/North Branch (13-11).

The Lightning have enjoyed a fun year working a lot of new players into the lineup. Coach Brad Hyduke said winning wasn’t always as important as getting some younger players experience. It’s a deep section this year, with NCAA Division I talent throughout, and even the No. 7 seed, Princeton Area (13-10-2), has a winning record.

Andover went undefeated in section play and has four D-I players, including its entire first line. Minnesota State-Mankato recruit Claire Butorac led the way with 31 goals and 33 assists for 64 points. Forest Lake is the defending section champion and has the best shutdown goaltender in the section in sophomore Josephine Bothun, a Penn State recruit who is 13-3-2 with a 1.14 goals-against average and .951 save percentage. Elk River/Zimmerman and GRG should challenge.

Junior forward Sadie Peart, a Quinnipiac recruit, leads the Thunderhawks with 23 goals and 25 assists for 48 points.

“We’ve got a full season behind us and a fully healthy lineup, so now we’re hoping to turn a good season into a special one with a playoff run,” Hyduke said.

Final News Tribune

girls hockey rankings

  1. GR-Greenway 16-8-1
  2. Duluth Marshall 17-8
  3. Proctor-Herm. 13-12
  4. International Falls 12-9-2