Late goal not enough as Pirates fall 3-1 to Thief River Falls
On Wednesday, Crookston girls' hockey coach Tim Moe said that he was "anxious" to see if his team would be able to consistently generate goal-scoring opportunities. One day later, in the Pirates' season opener, Moe's anxiety was borne out.
Crookston had just eight shots on goal through two periods of play, battling Thief River Falls hard in the neutral zone but doing little else. Sophomore goaltender Kailee Magsam had settled down after a shaky start, but the Pirates still had just 17 minutes to make up a two-goal deficit.
The spark came in the form of a freshman playing in her first varsity game. With 10 minutes to play, Brekken Tull dove into the crease, got her stick on a loose puck and beat Gabriella Steele for the first time on the night.
"Brekken's a strong kid who's played a lot of hockey," Moe said. "When you give her a chance out in front of net like that, more often than not she's gonna bury it."
The Prowlers, though, held on to beat Crookston, 3-1, at the Crookston Sports Center on Thursday in the first game for both teams this season.
For most of the 51 minutes, it looked like a typical first game: lots of chipping, poking and prodding, but little momentum for either side. TRF had just 21 shots on goal for the night; Crookston had 13. Coming off a longer offseason than normal, maybe this was to be expected.
But the Prowlers still struck when they had the chance, killing off a penalty to take a 1-0 lead when Shelby Breiland, a Bemidji State commit, beat Magsam after a Pirate turnover. Breiland's goal came on TRF's first shot of the game.
Crookston, by contrast, couldn't convert. Late in the first period, senior forward Nora Peterson earned a penalty shot after being taken down on a breakaway, but the Pirates' leading scorer last season was denied by Steele.
Six minutes of game time after Peterson's miss, Jayden Breiland found the net, beating Magsam on a long shot from the right side that snuck inside the goaltender's left post.
"We didn't do a lot to help her," Moe said of Magsam. "You take a look at the first goal, we gave the puck away in the center of the ice to a kid going to Bemidji State. Second goal, it looked like it was a pretty big screen out in front of her and just found a way in."
But Magsam, who Moe thought was a bit "stiff" in the first period due to seeing just three shots, settled in. Down the stretch, she'd go on to make a handful of key saves, and finished with a solid 18 stops on 20 shots.
The Pirates found a rhythm towards the end of the second period, keeping more offensive zone time. Thief River Falls played just two lines, and Moe thought his team's better depth may have had something to do the shift.
They couldn't capitalize on it until Tull's goal, though. Moe thought it energized his team just enough, but Steele, who made 12 saves on 13 shots, stood out in all the ways a senior netminder generally does.
An extra Pirate attacker, brought on in lieu of Magsam in the final minute, was to no avail. Shelby Breiland stole the puck in the defensive zone, danced through the neutral zone and put in the empty-net finish with 22 seconds to play.
"I really thought we were right on the brink of popping another in," Moe said.
For a Crookston team coming off a 12-14 record in 2019-20 — its best season in seven years — Thursday's finish likely registered some disappointment.
But after the game, Moe admitted that there's still work to be done. Crookston was under .500 season, after all. The Pirates, while talented and deeper than they've been in ages, are still relatively young, and "they're not used to winning." The message Moe gave to his team: "you either win or you learn."
"You gotta walk before you run," he said. "And you gotta go through things like this in order to see that you can play."
UP NEXT: Crookston hosts East Grand Forks on Friday at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first game of the season for the Green Wave, who went 12-12 last season.
"We just need to keep plugging away and come back tomorrow against another good team and see what we can do," Moe said.
Thief River Falls 1-1-1—3
- 12:06 first period (TRF): Shelby Breiland (Jenae Johnson, Carli Prickett)
- 13:32 second period (TRF): Jayden Breiland (Jenae Johnson, Shelby Breiland)
- 10:28 third period (Crookston): Brekken Tull
- 0:22 third period (TRF): Shelby Breiland empty net
- Crookston: Kailee Magsam 18 saves on 20 shots
- Thief River Falls: Gabriella Steele 12 saves on 13 shots
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