Prowlers hold off Crookston, 5-4, in section semis, Pirates' season comes to end

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times

THIEF RIVER FALLS — For all the milestones the Crookston girls' hockey team reached during its 2021 campaign, this one was always just a bit too far.

The Pirates lost to Thief River Falls, 5-4, in Tuesday night's Section 8A Semifinal at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Their season came to an end at 8-10-1.

It was familiar disappointment for Crookston, which had lost allthree of its regular-season meetings with the Prowlers, all by scores of 3-1. The Pirates have not beaten Thief River Falls since Feb. 14, 2011, a span of 24 games against them.

"We gotta win these games," said Crookston coach Tim Moe. "With our schedule this year, we got it to where besides the Warroad and Roseau games, every one of our games could have gone either way."

While the fourth meeting between the Pirates and Prowlers didn't end with a 3-1 score, it was the same story otherwise. Close, but not quite enough.

Bella Amiot opened the game with a goal for TRF 90 seconds in, but Crookston responded with strikes from infrequent scorers. Aleah Bienek, normally a defensive presence and playmaking center on a line with top scorers Addie Fee and Reese Swanson, tied the game at 1-1 6:45 before the first intermission.

Kenze Epema was one of three seniors who played their last game in Crookston's 5-4 loss.

Two minutes later, Cassie Solheim, herself with just five points on the year coming in, threw a centering pass that got by the Prowler defense. Grace Fischer jumped on the puck and shot it past Gabriella Steele.

That lead lasted just 11 seconds. Jenae Johnson scored to tie it back at 2-2, where the score stayed for the rest of the first period. Then, Thief River Falls started, in the words of Moe, taking it right to Crookston.

Star forward Shelby Breiland, a Bemidji State commit, scored on a breakaway to make it 3-2. Two minutes later, Amiot got her second goal, jumping on the rebound when Kailee Magsam was unable to handle a long, bouncing shot from center ice.

Magsam rebounded well from this mistake, though. She snuffed out multiple Prowler breakaways in the second half of the period. To Moe, the sophomore was the reason Crookston went into the second break still with a chance.

"I don't know if we did anything in the second period to settle down," Moe said. "We were kind of hanging on the whole period. That was the story of the game really. ... Kailee made a couple huge saves in that period, I think that was really the key for us to regroup."

Still, the Pirates were behind the eight-ball. Moe knew they had 17 minutes not just to win, but to keep their season alive. The heightened importance necessitated a drastic measure: for one of the few times this year, Crookston went with just two lines instead of its normal three or more.

Aleah Bienek scored Crookston's first goal Tuesday.

"When you do that, you might be a little bit more tired, but you're getting your top players out there more often," Moe said. "It's kind of a tradeoff there, but it's what we needed to do there in the third to try to get back in it."

The trade-off worked, for the most part. Addie Fee stole a pass in the neutral zone and ripped a shot past Steele on a breakaway to make it 4-3 with 13 minutes remaining. While TRF's Gretchen Cota answered back on a power play, the Prowlers took a five-minute major penalty late, giving Crookston the man advantage for the rest of the game.

It was just the chance the Pirates needed, and they didn't waste it. With Magsam pulled, Rylee Solheim scored on a rebound with 59 seconds left after a flurry of action in the crease.

A second goal proved to be too much, though. Crookston couldn't place a shot on goal in the final minute, and Thief River Falls rejoiced, its passage to Thursday's section final against Warroad secure.

This season, the Pirates defeated East Grand Forks for the first time in 19 games. They earned their highest section seed in years, avoiding the play-in game. They outshot their opponents, 535-387, in all.

Rylee Solheim scored in the last minute of the game to cut Thief River Falls' lead to 5-4.

Despite a second straight year of improvement, getting over the hump against the Prowlers is a goal that will take at least another season. For now?

"The one thing with our kids is they don't give up," Moe said. "You saw that all the way through."

UP NEXT: The Pirates are set to return most of their team for next season. Departing are seniors Catherine Tiedemann, Kenze Epema and Nora Peterson.

Peterson was the Pirates' leading scorer this season with nine goals and six assists. Tiedemann had six goals and four assists, and Epema had one goal and six assists.

All three were named to Section 8A All-Section, with Epema and Peterson on the second team and Tiedemann earning Honorable Mention.

Grace Fischer hugs Jenna Seaver after scoring to give Crookston a 2-1 lead in the first period.

BOX SCORE

Crookston 2-0-2—4

Thief River Falls 2-2-1—5

SCORING

  • 15:32 first period (TRF): Bella Amiot
  • 6:45 first period (Crookston): Aleah Bienek (Addie Fee, Kenze Epema)
  • 4:46 first period (Crookston): Grace Fischer (Cassie Solheim)
  • 4:35 first period (TRF): Jenae Johnson (Shelby Breiland)
  • 14:28 second period (TRF): Shelby Breiland
  • 12:13 second period (TRF): Bella Amiot (Kali Knutson)
  • 13:25 third period (Crookston): Addie Fee (Rylee Solheim)
  • 6:00 third period (TRF): Gretchen Cota (Shelby Breiland) power play
  • 0:59 third period (Crookston): Rylee Solheim (Cassie Solheim) power play, empty-net

 GOALTENDING

  • Crookston: Kailee Magsam 13 saves on 18 shots
  • Thief River Falls: Gabriella Steele 19 saves on 23 shots

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