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Girls hockey: Upset of South sends Tigers to state

Farmington added a new chapter to its rags to riches story Thursday night with a 4-1 upset win over top-seeded Lakeville South in the Section 1AA championship game in Owatonna to advance to the Class 2A state tournament in St. Paul next week.

The Tigers, who started the 2016-17 campaign 1-4, have now won five of their last six and raised their season record to 16-11-1.

Coach Jon Holmes’ Tigers punched their ticket to state by beating South, a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season and won the South Suburban Conference championship.

“We went into to the game with the plan to take away shots from the point that resulted in screens, tips, and rebounds,” Holmes said. “They are great at clogging the slot and causing havoc with all the traffic they have out front. We drilled constantly in practice on getting two players in the shooting lanes to either force them not to shoot and dump or try and shoot through us.

“In addition, our defense was ready to lift sticks, get aggressive positioning and gather the puck. Our forwards were ready for the D to quickly get the puck to them and turn what they had as an opportunity into an odd-man rush or a zone clear for us...This was very effective as we had multiple breakaways and odd-man rushes where we hit posts or had near misses.”

The Tigers never trailed in the contest, taking the lead early in the second period off an odd-man rush that saw Ellie Moser find Bailey Kelley who scored on a low shot to the blocker’s side.

The Cougars countered quickly with a score five minutes later on a goal by Emily Fischler (from Halle Gill) to set up a crucial final period.

The eventual game-winner came on a designed play off the power play midway through the third period with Megan Bernu banging home a pass from Jenna Gerold.

“We wanted to work it from to the top down and we got it low where Megan was sitting at the back door,” Holmes said.

The clincher came four minutes later, also on special teams play, when Marissa Agerter scored shorthanded to put a state tournament berth in sight.

“Getting a shorty was a nice added bonus for our hard work and preparation on special teams,” Holmes said.

Even with a two-goal lead, however, the final minutes were filled with drama. The Tigers picked up a pair of penalties in the last seven minutes and faced a 4-on-6 situation when the Cougars pulled their goalie with a minute and half to play.

Moser ended the suspense with an empty net score with 1:02 left in regulation.

The four-goal output was a major factor in the upset win but so too was the season-long solid play of the defense and the stellar netminding of Abby Bollig who stopped 26 of the 27 shots she faced.

“Abby played amazingly well,” Holmes said. “She was able to take opportunities away simply through her positioning and when she needed to, she made some really big-momentum changing saves.”

Farmington’s trip to the state tournament will be its fifth since the program started in the mid-1990’s. The Tigers previously played in three Class A meets and one as a Class 2A participant. The top finish came in 2007 when the Tigers won the runner-up trophy in 2007.

As for this year’s state entry, Holmes said its trip to St. Paul was well-earned.

“This team has always been blessed with talent, but we needed to really find our chemistry,” he said. “The talent we have is so different from player to player that it made for a heck of a journey for us to learn as players and coaches how the team could, and would, work with each other.

“I could just tell the entire season that we would find it. Even when things weren’t going our way, I always felt we were a step away from gelling. It was nice to get rolling the last five weeks...There were a lot of factors that went into the start we had but how we dealt with those and learned from them is what makes this team so special.”

The eight state qualifiers will open tournament play next Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center against an opponent to be determined by seeding.