As hard as the Pirates competed and as fast as they skated, Orono never looked any less likely from breaking down the door.
With 12 minutes to play, Sydney DeCubellis nimbly maneuvered her way in and around the crease, and fired one past the previously rock-solid Grace Koshney (Jr.) from a near-impossible angle. The finish gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead, 35 minutes of tough, choppy hockey after their last goal.
Orono had its much-needed cushion. It was time for it to make its bed.
Iyla Ryskamp scored another goal, her second of the game, five minutes later, and from there, the Spartans put the clamps down, powering past the Crookston girls’ hockey team late, 3-0, on Friday night.
The Pirates (0-2) looked to rebound from an 8-0 loss in their season opener at East Grand Forks.
“That was a bit of a downer,” Koshney said. “But we knew we had to come out with a good start to this game and work harder.”
Koshney certainly did her part, making 33 saves for Crookston, including 18 in the final period. But as a team, Crookston was outshot, 36-14.
It wasn’t always that lopsided, however. After withstanding Ryskamp’s sixth-minute power-play goal, the Pirates kept pace for the rest of the first and second period, using speed and all three lines to keep the score 1-0.
“I thought Orono was every bit as good as East Grand Forks was last night,” said Crookston coach Tim Moe. “I thought we competed better. We had three lines going who competed hard, we had four defensemen going competing hard and our goaltender competed really well tonight and so we were able to get ourselves more opportunities.”
Moe thought his team did a better job keeping the Spartans outside of the dangerous areas in the offensive zone, even during a first period in which they outshot the Pirates 9-2.
In the second period, the Pirates began to push forward a bit more. As Koshney continued standing on her head, defenseman MacKenze Epema (Jr.) made several clutch stops and offensive zone entries to give Crookston a chance.
“Last night I thought we gave up a bit, kinda got deflated, and that probably comes from playing a team all the time, we play East Grand Forks two, three times a year,” Moe said. “To play against a team who you don't know anything about, you just have to go and play.”
But the problems that haunted the Pirates in East Grand Forks, however, stuck with them Friday. They had a handful of breakaway chances and shots from around the crease, but weren’t physically strong enough to get more on net.
When that didn’t change in the third period, Orono was glad to flex its muscle.
To Moe, there are no shortcuts or ways around this lack of physicality. The Pirates, a younger and smaller team, just have to keep working and growing.
“We've been talking about the process we have to go through and that process is getting stronger,” Moe said. “ … I think our skill level is geting there, but we have to grow up a little bit and it's tough. We've been young forever, but at the end of the game we had three eighth graders on the ice killing a penalty and physically they’re just not there yet.
“We need to get in the weight room and work harder there and be able to take that strength that we gained off the ice and be able to bring it on the ice.”
But before it can do that, however, Crookston will finish out a challenging three-day stretch to open its season Saturday afternoon, when it plays Delano/Rockford on Saturday at 2 p.m at home. And based on the last two nights, the Pirates’ process will continue well afterwards.
“Preparation-wise, maybe a bit more, we have to make sure that we stay fit and not get too down,” Koshney said.
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