Prep girls hockey: Huselid, Elks put end to Duluth’s special season

Northern Stars enjoyed their first winning season in 14 years under first-year coach Ali Randall.

Girls hockey skaters from opposing teams move up the ice in close contact.
Duluth's Jenna Horvat, right, battles for the puck during the Northern Stars' loss to Elk River in the Section 7AA quarterfinal Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Elk River/Zimmerman girls hockey assistant coach Jordan McLaughlin was asked Thursday night what was taking Andi Huselid so long in the Elks’ locker room.

“She’s probably figuring out her blown tire,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin, the 2015 News Tribune All-Area player of year out of Grand Rapids/Greenway, was referring to Huselid’s broken skate.

Huselid, a senior forward, noticed something was up with her right skate between the second and third periods of the Elks’ Section 7AA playoff quarterfinal with the Duluth Northern Stars. The rivets had come right off. No matter. She got a size 5 1/2 skate on loan from teammate Maja Hjort, and then she proceeded to help the fifth-seeded Elks skate past the fourth-seeded Northern Stars 6-1 at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.

Huselid, who had never scored more than two goals in a game before, finished with four goals and an assist.


Duluth Northern Stars first round playoff game.
Duluth forward Mae McCall dives to keep a puck from Elk River's Andi Huselid during the Northern Stars' 6-1 loss in the Section 7AA quarterfinal Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

“Nobody wants their season to end,” said Huselid, who will play college hockey at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota. “We had some good chemistry going in the last game against Duluth and then it just carried over.”

Elk River/Zimmerman (9-14-2) advances to play top-ranked and defending Class AA state champion Andover (23-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the section semifinals.

“Certainly nobody is picking us to win that game,” Elks coach Brian Ballenger said.

Elk River/Zimmerman and Duluth met just a week ago and settled for a 2-2 overtime tie.

“I think there was a little motivation from last time,” Ballenger said. “The third period and overtime of that one, the ice was tilted pretty well in our favor, and then scoring in overtime and then having it disallowed gave us an edge. It’s always easier to get yourself up when there’s no pressure on you to win.”

After Huselid opened the scoring at 7:25 in the first period, Duluth freshman Mae McCall, who was very active all game, scored on a pretty play just over three minutes later, feigning left, darting back right and flipping a backhander over Elk River/Zimmerman goalie Addi Brandt, who finished with 20 saves.

Duluth Northern Stars first round playoff game.
Duluth's Ellie Marciniak, 18, battles with Elk River's Sophie Seidel during the Northern Stars loss in the Section 7AA quarterfinal Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

That was one of the few bright spots for the Northern Stars (14-8-4), who got 26 saves from Ella Brisbois.

Elk River/Zimmerman came back with a couple goals in the second and then made the score lopsided in the third with three more, including two empty-netters.


Duluth graduates eight seniors.

“Our seniors were a fundamental part to our success,” first-year Duluth coach Ali Randall said. “They led our team and created traditions we’ll continue for years.

“Like I said in the locker room, they had fun this season and focused on what they could control. That’s what they wanted at the beginning of the season, and they continued that all the way to the end.”

Duluth Northern Stars first round playoff game.
Duluth junior Grace Karakas tries to keep the puck away from Elk River's Carly Humphrey during the Northern Stars loss in the Section 7AA quarterfinal Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

Ballenger said Duluth’s turnaround was remarkable. The Northern Stars hadn’t had a winning season since 2008-09 and went 6-19 last season.

“What Ali has done with those girls is fabulous,” Ballenger said. “You could just see a different jump in their step this season, in everything. This is the first time in I don’t know how long they’ve been a top four seed — a lotta lotta years.”

Thursday was the first time the Northern Stars hosted a team in the playoffs, and the crowd and game-day production at Heritage Center was a little louder than normal.

While it ended in disappointment, the season certainly wasn’t. And with the foundation in place, including a huge and talented junior class that includes a quality goaltender in Brisbois, and up-and-comers like McCall, the future is bright.

There were plenty of tears that started in the locker room that spilled out into the hallway afterward but Randall said that was OK, that’s how it should be, for when you strive for something so hard it should hurt when you come up short. That shows how bad you wanted it.


There was a reason the Northern Stars had “trek to the X,” on their white board all season, in reference to the state hockey tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“It was a tough season to say goodbye to, because they knew they could do it. Randall said. “When you know and trust and believe in yourself, it’s a long fall from dreaming, but that’s why we do it. What’s the real prize, and what does our season mean to us? The fear of failure holds a lot of people back from dreaming big, but these girls found out this season that if you believe in yourself, good things can happen.”

Elk River 1-2-3—6

Duluth 1-0-0—1

First period — 1. ER, Andi Huselid (Emma Thomas), 7:25; 2. D, Mae McCall (Rylan Lorentz), 10:56.

Second period — 3. ER, Dani Henrichsen (Tony Alm, Abby Hansberger), 5:02; 4. ER, Huselid, 11:25.

Third period — 5. ER, Huselid (Julia Wilson, Thomas), 9:30; 6. ER, Huselid, 14:35 (en); 7. ER, Wilson (Huselid), 15:40 (en).

Saves — Addi Brandt, ER, 20; Ella Brisbois, ER, 26.

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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