Tourney time: Prep girls hockey playoff preview

Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey coach Glen Gilderman remembers evaluating the Mirage's schedule about eight years ago and making a conscious decision that it had to get tougher.

Local girls hockey teams looking forward to second season
Reilly Fawcett and Proctor-Hermantown will open the high school girls hockey playoffs on Thursday at International Falls. (Dave Harwig)
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Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey coach Glen Gilderman remembers evaluating the Mirage's schedule about eight years ago and making a conscious decision that it had to get tougher.

"We play a tough schedule for a reason, and the reason is the playoffs," Gilderman said. "We play these tough teams so come playoffs, we're battle worn and tested."

Gilderman will find out just how prepared his team is when the fifth-seeded Mirage (6-18-1) open play in the Section 7A playoffs at fourth-seeded International Falls (15-8) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Proctor-Hermantown-Marshall had 75 wins over the past four seasons but has found the wins harder to come by this season as Marshall is no longer part of the cooperative. The Mirage are in their first year in Class A but kept a schedule loaded with Class AA teams, a strategy that teams such as Hibbing-Chisholm -- both their boys and girls -- have implemented with great success over the years.

"What we used to do was win quite a few games during the regular season and then get knocked out right away in the first round of the playoffs," Gilderman said. "It was frustrating, so we made a decision that we were going to use the 'Hibbing model,' if you will, which is to schedule tough teams. It might not always look pretty (record wise) and you're going to take some lumps, but at the end of the year you hope there is a payoff there."


Gilderman first was able to schedule South St. Paul, with the coach of the state-power Packers basically doing him a favor, but then other top-tier teams came on board. That trend has continued to this day. This winter the Mirage played both defending state champions: Minnetonka (Class AA) and Warroad (Class).

Proctor-Hermantown is led by centers Reilly Fawcett (14 goals, 6 assists, 20 points) and Justina Lindberg (12-4--16). Melinda Nelson -- one of only three seniors on the team -- has been a standout since moving to defense this season, while goalies Courtney Simmons and Kylie Hommerding have been solid in net.

The Mirage earned 3-1 victories over second-seeded Hibbing-Chisholm and eighth-seeded Moose Lake Area (3-1) in the past three weeks.

"We hope those wins are a confidence builder for playoffs," Gilderman said. "We expect to be competitive and are excited for this opportunity. This is the second season. We're zero and zero now."




Gilderman's sentiments are echoed by Duluth coach Shawna Davidson.


Fourth-seeded Duluth (8-15-2) hosts fifth-seeded Cambridge-Isanti Area (8-14-3) in the Section 7AA first round at 7 p.m. Thursday.

"When we're committed and disciplined we're a great five-on-five hockey team," Davidson said. "One of the key things for us is to stay out of the penalty box."

The Northern Stars have struggled with, including 14 penalties in one game, but they hope they gained momentum after a 2-2 tie against section power Grand Rapids-Greenway last week. The Lightning beat the Stars 7-0 earlier in the season as senior sensation Molly Illikainen had five goals.

Illikainen didn't have a goal last week.

"At times when we've played well, we've been really, really good, but when we've played poorly, we've been bad," Davidson said. "There has been no in-between."

Nikki Logergren (20-7--27), Claudia Gagnon (7-18--25) and Alexia Klaas (3-17--20) lead the team in scoring, while junior Megan Hansen (.869 save percentage) has been solid in net.

"I want our team to not be tight, and to just go out there and enjoy the experience," Davidson said. "You can't change a lot in three days, but I hope we believe we have a chance. That is what's great about the high school playoffs: everyone gets to go. Everyone has that chance."

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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