Prep girls hockey: Northern Stars and Elks fit to be tied

Brisbois’ 43 saves help Duluth hold on for tie in Section 7AA playoff primer.

Duluth Northern Stars tie Elk River
Duluth's Ella Brisbois makes a stop during the Northern Stars' tie with Elk River Thursday at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The Duluth Northern Stars’ turnaround this season has been nothing short of remarkable, and first-year coach Ali Randall is quick to deflect praise, saying the foundation was in place to have a successful season.

That foundation starts with junior goalie Ella Brisbois, who was like the Rock of Gibraltar in net Thursday night in leading the Northern Stars to a 2-2 overtime tie with Elk River at Heritage Center in what should be the perfect primer for the start of the Section 7AA playoffs next week.

Brisbois, in her first year as a full-time starter after switching on and off the past two years, had 43 saves, including a dazzling 14 in the third period and 10 in the eight-minute overtime.

“Ella is our hero this year. We love her,” Randall said. “This year it’s been all her (in net). She’s just so level headed, probably one of the most level-headed players on the roster. Her character gives her this competitive edge over some goalies who can’t keep it together.”

Duluth (13-7-4) and Elk River (7-14-2) find out Friday who and where they will be playing in the playoffs when the Section 7AA seedings are completed via a coaches’ vote.


Andover (21-3), the defending state champs, are the clear No. 1.

“But after that, it’s a jumbled mess,” Elks coach Brian Ballenger said.

Thursday was Military Appreciation Night and for the national anthem Northern Stars and youth players held a giant American flag at center ice. The Northern Stars wore special white jerseys designed by captain Bailey Coole and alternate captains Jenna Horvat and Grace Karakas along with Duluth Screen Printing.

Horvat has enlisted in the Air National Guard and as part of the opening-game ceremony was sworn in by Northern Stars assistant coach Amy Auran, an International Falls native and Air National Guard member.

After a scoreless first period, Gracyn Schipper staked the Northern Stars to a 2-1 lead after two periods on nice assists from Lucy Fellman and Grace Karakas, the daughter of former Minnesota Duluth forward Kraig Karakas.

“The first one was a tip, so I have to give all the credit to my teammate,” Schipper said. “I just tipped it in, back door. It was perfect. And the second one, Grace just slid it across and I just sniped it.

“The difference this year has just been the energy and coaches. Everything is just so positive.”

Winning, of course, helps.


Duluth Northern Stars tie Elk River
Duluth's Gracyn Schipper skates toward the Northern Stars' bench after scoring the first goal of their game against Elk River Thursday.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

Duluth appeared on its way to victory when Elk River’s Carly Humphrey snuck one past Brisbois at 14:55 in the third, making it 2-2 and forcing an extra period.

If anyone appeared to be freaking out, it wasn’t Brisbois.

“Ella is just so stable,” Randall said. “You could see her in those overtime scrums. She’s the only calm one out there. The officials, the other team, she’s the only one breathing. By that point, you’re at the end of your mental rope, so now, it’s just all playing with heart, and gut, and she did that.”

Duluth appeared to run out of gas as Elk River carried the momentum of the third period into overtime. Penalties certainly didn’t help the Northern Stars as they ended up exhausting a lot of energy killing five of them.

Brisbois allowed an overtime goal on a shot from the blue line but it was immediately waved off due to a skater in the crease. The Elks were physical with Brisbois all game, but she’s the type who says, “Bring it on.”

“Overtime is always fun. We’ve been there before a lot, so it’s always hard,” Brisbois said. “You just have to keep playing.

“We were fortunate (on the non-goal), but the refs know what they’re doing. They know what they’re doing and we trust them.”

Ballenger agreed. He said his team has had at least 10 one-goal games this season.


“As many one-goal games as we’ve had, this was nothing,” Ballenger said.

While Duluth was fortunate to get the tie, he said the Elks were, too, pointing out how late their tying goal came.

“Those girls battled hard,” Ballenger said of the Northern Stars. “What Ali is doing in her first year is fabulous. Those girls have bought in.”

The Northern Stars are enjoying their first winning season since 2008-09. Last year, they went 6-19. That’s quite the turnaround.

“The coolest part is the way the girls trusted us,” Randall said. “We all said let’s have a good season, and we sat down, and one of the girls was like, ‘We just want to have fun.’ (Randall laughed) Anything else? We were here to get some work done and make history, and we did that.”

Elk River 0-1-1-0—1

Duluth 0-2-0-0—2

First period — No scoring.

Second period — 1. D, Gracyn Schipper (Lucy Fellman), 6:21; 2. ER, Abby Hansberger (Emma Thomas), 11:08; 3. D, Schipper (Grace Karakas, Mae McCall), 13:37.

Third period — 4. ER, Carly Humphrey (Julia Wilson, Thomas), 14:55.

Overtime — No scoring.

Saves — Addi Brandt, ER, 24; Ella Brisbois, D, 43.

Duluth Northern Stars tie Elk River
Duluth's Grace Karakas takes a shot at the Elk River goal on a breakaway during the Northern Stars 2-2 tie Thursday at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
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 or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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