Every goal, every win, every postseason game Crookston girls’ hockey survives to play is, to coach Tim Moe, just part of a process.
A team that had won just 15 games over the last four seasons had to start from square one. Get the players. Instill the belief in these players that they could win. Then, go out and win.
This season, that process had brought the Pirates 11 wins and a home playoff game for the first time since 2015, against a team — Detroit Lakes — they had beaten twice already. The next step in that process: how would Crookston react when it went down, 2-0, within eight minutes in a win-or-go-home game it was favored to win?
It wasn’t that the Pirates were playing poorly. They dominated zone time for most of the first period, and especially the opening minutes. But the Lakers got the key bounces: a puck that somehow went off and over Grace Koshney’s stick and behind her into the net; a perfectly-placed rebound off Koshney’s pad that Ella Hess was able to poke home for a two-goal lead.
Sometimes, those bounces are just what hockey comes down to. If Crookston was going to come back, it would have to embrace that.
“On the bench, there was no panic,” Moe said. “We understood we were playing okay, doing some positive things, but sometimes bounces go against you and then you just have to overcome it.”
Having the mental strength to understand how much hockey was left to be played and trusting that your own bounces would come — that’s a part of the process in and of itself.
After Hess’ goal, the Pirates didn’t change much. They stayed calm, continued attacking and halved their deficit on a screaming one-timer by Nora Peterson (Jr., F) off an inch-perfect pass from Rylee Solheim (So., D) — a goal where “luck” seemingly played no role.
Crookston’s game-tying goal was the polar opposite.
Ninety seconds into the second period, Kylee Meier (Sr., F) gained the zone and kept skating down the right flank. There was no Pirate rushing towards the slot, but Meier smartly threw the puck into the danger area anyway. It bounced off the back of a Laker skate at the exact angle needed to squeeze behind the goaltender and over the red line.
“There's no way around that — we got a bounce around their defender's skate, but they got a bounce on their first goal too,” Moe said. “That's hockey, and sometimes things go right for you when you're working hard and doing it all game.”
Finally, the Pirates’ game-winning goal involved perfect special teams execution. Kenzie Epema (Jr., D) took the puck at the point, skated down towards the corner and Catherine Tiedemann (Jr., F) took her spot. She kept her head up, kept it up, and then saw the gap. On the other end of it, Aleah Bienek (So., G) was wide open in the slot.
“Aleah shot that puck hard right through that goalie,” Moe said. “It was how you draw a power play goal up.”
At that point, with half the game left to be played, Moe certainly didn’t think Bienek’s goal would turn out to be the game-winner.
Crookston outshot Detroit Lakes 23-10 after the first period. It had far more opportunities over the last 34 minutes, and looked every bit the part of the favored team playing with home ice and momentum.
But the Pirates didn’t run away with the victory. They salted it away, rather, with two clutch penalty kills in the final minutes and excellent defense from goal up to all three lines and two defensive pairings that saw the ice.
Playoff hockey isn’t always pretty — that’s almost written into the very words “playoff hockey.” On Thursday, Crookston was rightly the better team, and more deserving of winning — not because it dominated possession and game flow, but because it stayed the course, and when the bounces came on either side, it didn’t get too high or too low.
The Pirates just kept playing.
“It's a situation they haven't really been in, so it's just once again part of that process to be in those situations knowing how to react better,” Moe said. “First period, we might not have reacted as well as we needed to. But we settled down, we persevered, and we overcame."
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