OWATONNA — Freshman Reagan Haley has made a killing this season with her precision passing in Red Wing's potent offensive attack. However, she bucked that trend Thursday — if only for a moment — to spark the top-seeded Wingers to a 5-2 victory over No. 2 New Prague in the Section One, Class A title game.
The diminutive ninth-grader finished the regular season third in the state with 38 assists. She added three more in the postseason opener, but broke the ice herself against the Trojans in a showdown Red Wing coach Scott Haley, her father, called a "trap game."
It might seem a silly phrase until you consider the recent past. Faced with a similar situation just two years ago against Faribault, Red Wing dominated play while outshooting the Falcons by a 3-to-1 margin only to lose in overtime. That stunning loss is all that has prevented the Wingers from four straight section titles.
Determined to ease pressure Thursday night in order to avoid a repeat from 2010, Red Wing played a rousing game of girls hockey trivia on the bus ride over. The victor earned bragging rights and candy bars. The gimmick resulted in a relaxed team scoring two first-period goals in a contest that was never in doubt the rest of the way.
The team nearly matched its scoring average of 5.5 per game.
"I think that was really important to stay loose," said Reagan Haley, munching on some chocolate after tallying a goal and two assists. "We always play our best when we're having fun. Today we made sure we had fun."
Despite the early lead, the first period was nearly even in scoring opportunities. However, Red Wing goalie Lisa Nibbe put together what some teammates called her best performance of the season to keep her slate clean until the final period; she finished with 21 saves.
The rest of the game was the Nicole Schammel Show.
The sophomore standout finished the regular season eighth in Minnesota with 69 points (37G, 32A), but has taken her game to another level in two postseason games; Red Wing received a first-round bye with its top seed. Fresh off a seven-point performance in the semifinals, Schammel recorded a natural hat trick after Reagan Haley opened the scoring. She now has nine goals in the last two games.
"Honestly, it's just my teammates getting me the puck," said Schammel, who has already had college contact with North Dakota and the Bulldogs in Duluth. "They make it easy."
Added Reagan Haley: "She's always in the right spot. Great hockey IQ."
Red Wing led 4-0 after dominating the second period; it outshot the Trojans 16-4 in the period. However, New Prague's Dani Kocina scored a short-handed, breakaway goal just 47 seconds into the third period to pull within 4-1.
The Trojans were unable to convert on a power-play chance shortly thereafter before Red Wing junior Paige Haley, Reagan's sister who has verbally committed to the University of Minnesota, found the back of the net with a snapshot. The older Haley finished with a goal and an assist, while another goal was wiped out by a teammate in the crease.
Elle Anderson, one of Red Wing's three seniors, tallied one assist to round out the scoring.
The Wingers improve to 19-7-1 on the year and have won nine of their last 11. They return to action Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center looking to improve on last season's consolation championship.
The top four teams will be seeded Saturday morning. Matchups will be set immediately afterward.