It's been five years in the making, but playoff girls' hockey is returning to Crookston.
Behind strong performances from their top line and junior goaltender Grace Koshney, the Pirates defeated Detroit Lakes, 3-2, in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday night, in the process locking up home-ice advantage in the Section 8A play-in game next Thursday.
Crookston and Detroit Lakes were already guaranteed to meet in the play-in game, but the only question was where it would take place. The Pirates answered that question by finishing off a season sweep of the Lakers, having beaten them, 3-1, on Dec. 12.
"We talk with the kids all the time — this is process and we need to take steps, and one of the steps we had to take coming into this year was to move up the standings," said head coach Tim Moe. "We couldn't keep being at the bottom of the standings, we needed to move up a little bit and first step to that was to get ahead of Detroit Lakes."
At first, however, Crookston (9-12, 2-5 Section 8A) didn't play like a team on the verge of clinching doing so. The Lakers (3-17, 1-3) outshot the Pirates, 8-5, in the first period — the scoreboard only remaining clean due to a number of big saves from Koshney.
"We were reacting instead of anticipating," Moe said. "It felt like we were a little too relaxed, didn't play with a sense of urgency."
That all changed during the first intermission. In the second period, the Pirates "came out on fire," according to Moe.
"The girls took it on themselves to talk to each other and figure out that that's not how we've played lately and we're better than that," he said. "Really a credit to the leadership in the locker room, taking charge and getting the kids going."
Crookston dominated play, if not quite the scoreboard, in the second period. The Pirates took 17 shots on goal and gave up just two. With 3:36 left in the period, Raina Satrom (8, F) broke the seal off assists from Nora Peterson (Jr., F) and Rylee Solheim (So., D).
Peterson got into the act midway through the third period, assisted by Satrom and Cassie Solheim (8, F). The Lakers' Madyson Melgard found the net with 6:29 to play, but almost exactly a minute later, Crookston's top line struck again, this time Cassie Solheim off assists from Peterson and Satrom.
Each member of the Pirates' top line scored, and the line combined for eight of their nine points on the night.
"They work so well together," Moe said. "When they're on the ice, they move so well and they're getting a chemistry together. They know where each other's going to be. It's both on and off the ice, they're extremely good friends off the ice, they do a lot of stuff together, and it's been really nice to see them grow together as a unit and really bring out the best in each other when they're out on the ice."
Melgard scored her second goal with 53 seconds remaining, but it was too little, too late for Detroit Lakes.
"One of the goals coming into the season, we wanted to host that playoff game," Moe said. "That will be fun in Crookston."
UP NEXT: Crookston travels to Devils Lake, N.D. on Thursday, Jan. 30 in a game that was originally scheduled to take place on Jan. 20 but postponed due to winter storms. The Firebirds beat the Pirates, 4-2, on Jan. 2 in Crookston.
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