The Austin Packers girls’ hockey team, the No. 2 seed in the Section 1A tournament met I-90 rival Albert Lea, the No. 1 seed for the section title at the Four Seasons Center in Owatonna Thursday evening, and although the Packers held a 2-1 lead early in the second period, the Tigers used a power play goal shortly after Austin had taken the lead to seize the momentum to the tune of six unanswered goals to claim the section title by a 7-2 score.
Austin’s Kate Holtz, who rolled up four goals, three shorthanded an an assist in a 5-1 semi-final win over Waseca put the Packers in front 1-0 at 3:02 of the first period when she swatted a backhander at Albert Lea goaltender Rachel Doppelhammer from between the faceoff circles that trickled into the net for an early lead. The Tigers countered at 8:32 of the period when 7th grader Morgan Goskeson, the leading goal scorer for Albert Lea coming into the game with 21 for the season tallied her 22nd to tie the game at one at the end of one period.
Austin took their second lead of the game early in the second period at 1:58 when Holtz got the puck to senior forward Izzy Hemann, who in turn played a pass into the right offensive corner for fellow senior forward Megan Schultz, whose centering feed from the corner caromed off the stick of Doppelhammer and into the net to give the Packers a 2-1 lead. The momentum of the game turned in favor of Albert Lea, though, just under three minutes later when, on the power play, freshman defenseman Mika Cichosz received a pass at center from fellow defenseman Keira Erickson, sped into the left circle in the Packer zone and snapped a wrister from the faceoff dot past Austin netminder Kyia Radford-Garcia to tie the game at 2. The Tigers gained even more momentum only :32 seconds later when senior forward Lucy Stay scooped up a loose puck at center, sped past the defense and beat Garcia with a wrist shot at 5:21 to put Albert Lea in the lead 3-2. The Tigers added to their lead at 9:42 of the period when their power play, which was operating at only 14.9% for the season coming into the game tallied again as senior forward Esther Yoon scored from close in to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead. Another goal from Goskeson, her second of the game at 12:57 capped off a four-goal outburst in the period to give Albert Lea a 5-2 lead after two periods of play. Goals from Shelby Evans at 8:49 of the third period and yet another power play goal for the Tigers at 16:28, this one from Cichosz off a faceoff win by Evans in the Packer zone accounted for the 7-2 final.
Albert Lea outshot Austin 25-21 for the game, and their power play wound up going 3 for 5 for the game, while Austin was 0 for 2. Garcia wound up making 18 saves in net for the Packers, while Doppelhammer turned away 19 of the 21 shots she faced to earn the win between the pipes.
Austin finishes a fantastic season at 15-11, while Albert Lea is now 14-10-1 heading into the State Class A Girls Hockey Tournament for the first time in school history. The Tigers will play an opponent yet to be determined at a time yet to be determined next Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.