Few hockey teams in Minnesota can claim to have a better record than the Hermantown boys’ 16-1 mark, and few players have produced more wins than sophomore goaltender Garron Opsahl’s 13 victories.
Aurora Opsahl, Garron’s older sister, is one of those.
The senior has played an instrumental role in the Proctor-Hermantown girls team going 16-0 — the only undefeated team in Class A.
“It’s been a fun and enjoyable year,” Aurora said. “Going the whole year undefeated would be really fun. It’s going to be a lot of hard work to get there, but we’re looking forward to it.”
The third-ranked Mirage are seeded No. 1 in Section 7A and earned a bye into Thursday’s semifinals against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Eveleth-Gilbert Area and Moose Lake Area. Win that, and the Mirage would host the final Saturday afternoon.
Likewise, the second-ranked Hawks are seeded first in 7A and received a first-round bye. They will host either North Shore or Proctor in Saturday’s quarterfinal round.
The Hawks are heavy favorites to return to the Class A state tournament, but in order to do so, goaltending will be a big factor.
“Goaltending is huge, and that was our question mark going into the season and has been a question mark the entire season,” Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. “Which goalie was going to step up? Garron has taken that role over, so it’s exciting for him to have that opportunity. But goaltending always rears its head at some point in the playoffs. Goaltending is usually the difference.”
Garron Opsahl has posted a 1.59 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage for a team that averages 7.6 goals per game. All those goals and puck possession means he doesn’t see a ton of action.
“I don’t see as many shots as others,” Garron said. “(All the offense) does make things easier.”
Andrews says his goalie doesn’t need to stop everything; just don’t let in any easy ones, and everything should take care of itself.
“It’s a little more relaxing for him knowing that he doesn’t have to be perfect,” Andrews said. “We’re not relying on him to be perfect; we rely on him to play well. We’re going to score some goals, and we need Garron to stop the pucks he’s supposed to stop. If he does that, we’re going to be OK.”
The Hawks’ path to a state tournament doesn’t have many land mines — No. 2-seeded Duluth Denfeld lost 6-3 and 9-3 to Hermantown — but the program has suffered several tough losses at state in the past decade, with goaltending sometimes the Achilles’ heel.
Defending champion Mahtomedi, Warroad, Little Falls and top-ranked Gentry Academy — who was supposed to play Hermantown in a regular-season finale that was canceled because of caution surrounding COVID-19 — all could present problems.
“Our schedule was one of the disadvantages of COVID,” Andrews said. “Our goaltending hasn’t been tested like normal. In the games Garron has been tested, he’s been mixed. He’s done some really nice things, and he’s looked like a sophomore at times. But he’s getting better and better every game, and that’s been great.”
For his part, Garron is excited to face those challenges.
“Those are the kinds of games you look forward to and keep your team in it,” he said. “Those are the ones you mark on your calendar.”
Garron has played goalie since a young age and had a built-in shotmaker to test him at home. Those one-on-one matchups with his sister still take place.
“There’s always some trash-talking to see who gets the best of whom,” Garron said. “She can’t score on me.”
That depends on whom you ask. Aurora has a different take.
“He always is egging me on and saying, ‘You can’t score on me,’” she said. “It’s always fun to go against him and take him out. I can beat him.”
Aurora has done that to a number of goalies this season. She has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points to rank fourth in scoring on a team that has nine players who have scored between 20 and 32 points.
“She has been bringing her energy just like she did last year,” Mirage coach Emma Stauber said.
The veteran left wing played on the top line with Alyssa Watkins and Michaela Phinney last season. Those three were split up on separate lines this year.
“They have all done a fabulous job of bringing the girls around them to be successful,” Stauber said. “Rory has been phenomenal for us. She’s scoring goals and setting up plays with her linemates, playing offensively and defensively, on the power play, on the (penalty kill). She’s been doing it all for us.”
The elder Opsahl is playing on a line with junior Ember Kehtel and sophomore Reese Heitzman this winter. The four lines and six defensemen mean that the Mirage often wear down opponents.
“We tire out teams that play fewer lines than us and use that to our advantage,” Aurora said. “We are a fast team that can skate around them.”
Proctor-Hermantown defeated second-seeded Duluth Marshall 5-1 and 4-2 during the season en route to joining the boys team as Lake Superior Conference champions.
Now, after a season in which watching each other’s games has been difficult due to COVID-19 protocols, the Opsahls hope to see the other in the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.