A lot can change in a year, but to open their season the North Wright County RiverHawks were looking to avenge their 1-0 loss from the section 5AA quarterfinals last season against Champlin Park/Coon Rapids.
The RiverHawks lost their top two scorers from last year, Sydney Peterson to graduation and Lilly Gillespie to injury, so NWC was going to need to find scoring from other sources.
In game one of the season, they found those sources in junior forward Adrienne Hansen and senior forward Josie VanKuyk. VanKuyk scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime and Hansen potted the equalizer with just 8.3 seconds remaining in the third period.
“There were a lot of opportunities and a lot of rebounds and the girls dug deep and my heart rate went through the roof and it was insane and the girls kind of went for it,” said Head Coach Cailyn Olesen on Hansen’s goal.
“There were so many things going on at once and I’m super proud of the girls. It was a great shot by Josie (VanKuyk) right there too,” said Olesen on the game-winner.
Senior goaltender Jadyn Weiser, who finished with 30 saves on 32 shots on goal (.938 save percentage, kept the RiverHawks in the game while they waited for the offense to join the party.
“Jadyn played on top of her head tonight,” said Olesen. “Without her in that net it would have been a whole different story tonight. We wouldn’t have had the chance to even tie it up with eight seconds left because she phenomenal tonight.”
North Wright Country waited until the third period to score their first goal, but thanks to Weiser all they needed was two to force overtime.
The RiverHawks started the game by getting the puck in deep and generating strong pressure in the first minute but weren’t able to reward themselves with a goal. Four minutes in Weiser was forced to make her first of many quality saves. Cam Singh was alone against Weiser right on the doorstep and Weiser showed off her strong pad strength to keep the puck out of the net with Singh trying to jam it home until Weiser covered it up with her body facing the net.
At 9:00 of the first sophomore forward Dani Weiland was whistled for a tripping minor and NWC went on the penalty kill for the first time on the year. They looked good in their first special teams action. The RiverHawks were able to keep Champlin Park/Coon Rapids out of the zone for the first minute and then kept the puck away from the most dangerous scoring areas as they successfully killed their first penalty. North Wright County finished the game 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
After a fairly even first few minutes, the momentum shifted towards CP/CR after the first penalty and they got dangerously close to scoring, especially in the last 90 seconds. But, when the horn sounded, NWC escaped unscathed despite getting outshot 8-5 in the opening frame.
North Wright County spent a lot of time in the defensive zone in the second period, but still got the first good scoring opportunity of either team on the power play. Junior defenseman Eva Nelson showed off some nice stick handling and fired a shot off, but sophomore goaltender Maddie Wostrel kept the game scoreless.
Weiland then kept the puck on her backhand as she drove toward the net and NWC was eventually rewarded with a penalty. At 7:08 Singh was called for cross-checking and the RiverHawks got their first power play chance.
With about 30 seconds left in the power play the RiverHawks had their newest best chance of the night when junior forward Ali Schaefer had the puck behind the net with sophomore defenseman Lauren Weimer wide open back door, but the pass came late and the CP/CR defense was able to recover in time to get a stick on it and shut the chance down.
At 10:49 of the second the Blue Birds finally broke through and got one past Weiser to take a 1-0 lead over the RiverHawks. In the closing seconds of the second, the RiverHawks gave up a turnover but a strong backcheck prevented a scoring chance. Hansen reentered the offensive zone with just a few ticks remaining but wasn’t able to get a shot off and the score remained 1-0 entering the third period. Champlin Park/Coon Rapids outshot North Wright County 14-9 in the middle frame.
NWC got their second power play of the night a minute into the third and got one good look despite not taking a lot of shots. Wostrel had trouble trying to cover the puck, but the RiverHawks weren’t able to poke it in. At 4:45 of the third, they got their third crack at a power play when CP/CR was called for too many men on the ice.
The third time was the charm as VanKuyk found herself wide open in the slot and ripped a beauty of a shot upper 90 to the top left corner for the equalizer at 5:34 of the third period. Assists went to Nelson and Weimer on the VanKuyk goal. However, off the center ice draw the Blue Birds got right down and scored on a mini breakaway to take the lead just 15 seconds later.
CP/CR got another breakaway off the draw but Weiser was able to save it.
The final seven minutes of the period were littered with penalties. Hansen was called for interference, the Blue Birds got called for a cross-check, and then a minute later Weiland was called for a cross-check at 14:33.
Olesen’s team was able to successfully kill the penalty and had about 30 seconds to work with. With an extra attacker jumping into the play with Weiser pulled, Hansen potted the game-tying goal at 16:52 of the third period to send the game into overtime tied 2-2. Assists on the Hansen goal went to VanKuyk and Weiland.
After a five-minute intermission both teams took to the ice, but over time lasted all of 39 seconds.
VanKuyk from Schaefer and Hansen was how the game-winner went down. VanKuyk finished with 2 goals and an assist, Hansen had a goal and an assist, and Weimer, Weiland, Schaefer, and Nelson all had an assist each. Weiser had 30 saves on 32 shots on goal. Shots were 32-26 in favor of Champlin Park/Coon Rapids.
“I didn’t even look,” said VanKuyk. “I just shot it and it just went in.”
The special teams came to play in game one. The RiverHawks went 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the kill. Olesen said the power play was huge because they had just a couple of scrimmages and practices to work on it.
North Wright County (1-0) has three straight road games starting with Hill-Murray (2-0) at Aldrich Arena on Tuesday, against Maple Grove (2-0) at Maple Grove Community Center on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. and Orono (2-1-1) at Orono Ice Arena on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. Their next home game will be against Osseo/Park Center on Thursday, Dec. 8 at Moose Sherritt Ice Arena with puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m.