For the first time in program history, the River Lakes hockey team heads to the Xcel Energy Center for the state tournament.
The Stars hit their ticket to St. Paul on Saturday night when No. 2 seed River Lakes defeated No. 1 seed Willmar in a 3-2 final. It was a rematch of the 2020 Section 6A title game in which Willmar took the win.
River Lakes was hungry to return to this section title game and take on Willmar.
“They’ve been talking about last year’s title game for every Willmar game this season,” said River Lakes head coach Alexis Klatt. “They were excited about this match from the moment they got on the bus.”
The game plan was to come out quickly and efficiently. Klatt said if they could get a good lead early on, Willmar could stall for the rest of the game.
The first part of the plan worked, as River Lakes took a 2-0 lead in the first period and it eliminated Willmar. It didn’t end the entire game for the Cardinals, as Willmar was scoreless in the first two periods, but was out in the third period.
Bree Griffin started scoring for the Stars with the first goal with about 12 minutes remaining in the first. Then Sophia Hess scored to make it a 2-0 game on the way to the second period.
The Cardinals came out and were tied at 2-2 in the third period with about 8:30 left in the game. The stars had to dig deep and find a way to score.
That came from Myckenzie Cremers’ stick with about seven minutes to go. Then goalkeeper Kaydence Roeske did her job and kept the pucks out of the net.
“Willmar has some great players, so we had to shut them out tonight,” Klatt said. “We let them open in the third period and they showed why they are great players.”
In the last few minutes, River Lakes received two penalties that gave Willmar a power play opportunity. At one point, the Stars only had three players on the ice for about 10-15 seconds.
Klatt had some nervousness on the bench, but she knew the players were prepared for this situation.
“We practice with special teams all the time during practice,” said Klatt. “I was convinced they could get those stops.”
That confidence was palpable on the ice when the Stars stopped Willmar’s every shot in the last few minutes, including when the Cardinals pulled their goalkeeper and made it 5-on-6.
When the last horn went off, the gloves flew into the air and the River Lakes players hopped in a pile near the goalkeeper. There was plenty of shouting and cheering as the Stars made history on Saturday night.
It is the first time in both boys ‘and girls’ programming history that a team has made it to the state tournament. It’s special for Klatt because she was a player in 2013 and has seen this program grow over the years.
“It’s special to me because I’ve been on this team and it’s nice to be a part of the history of this program,” said Klatt.
Klatt has been on the coaching staff for three years, but this is her first season as a head coach. Now River Lakes awaits the seeds for the state tournament and practice for the biggest game in program history on Friday.
The Stars play on Friday, as the quarter-finals of Class A girls hockey are scheduled for that day. Time is in the air depending on the seed River Lakes receives.
Regardless of whether it’s morning or night, Klatt knows these girls will be ready for the state.
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