ST. PAUL - Nicole Schammel watched the puck bounce loose in the offensive zone as she skated past the Hutchinson bench and when it found her stick alone in front of the Hutchinson goal she did what she’s done all season: put it in the back of the net.
“I just knew I was going to score and it would be done,” Schammel said.
Schammel, a sophomore, continues to step up in big games for the Red Wing girls hockey team and none was bigger than the Wingers 6-5 overtime victory Wednesday in the first round of the Minnesota Class A girls state hockey tournament at the Xcel Energy Center. Schammel scored four goals, including Red Wing’s final three goals, and the Wingers rallied from a 5-3 deficit with 10 minutes, 31 seconds left in regulation.
Ninth-grader Reagan Haley finished with five assists, sophomore Emily Stegora tallied a goal and junior Paige Haley also scored. Red Wing outshot Hutchinson 43-25.
Sara Carlson, signed to play at New Hampshire next season, and Claire Cripps led the Tigers with two goals and two assists each. Carlson dominated play for much of the first two periods before Red Wing was able to slow her down.
“She’s maybe the best player we played all year,” Wingers head coach Scott Haley said. “We tried shadowing her … but we said we can’t let her touch the puck anymore.”
The first period started slowly with the players adjusting to the other team’s style and working through some nervousness. Cripps struck first for Hutchinson with 1:54 left in the first period and the Tigers took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Red Wing came out firing at the beginning of the second period, getting goals from Paige Haley and Schammel to take a 2-1 lead. Carlson responded with back-to-back goals and Ashley Madson’s shot redirected off a Wingers’ stick with 21 seconds remaining in the second to give Hutchinson a 4-2 lead. The Wingers outshot the Tigers 17-11 in the second period but saw the deficit double.
“I was a little surprised we were down 4-2,” Scott Haley said.
But Schammel said she never worried the Wingers could come back.
“I kind of always knew we were going to come back,” she said. “We were due for those lucky bounces.”
In the third period, Scott Haley stacked Red Wing’s top line by putting Stegora with Reagan Haley and Schammel. The results were immediate as Stegora cut the Hutchinson lead to 4-3 midway through the final period. But Hutchinson responded with what appeared to be a backbreaking goal 15 seconds later by Cripps that was disallowed initially but was clearly a goal after a video review.
“There were some weird things that happened,” Scott Haley said.
And that’s when Schammel took over.
She scored twice in less than two minutes, tying the game at 5-5 with 7:42 left on a perfectly placed deflection past the Hutchinson goalie.
Senior goalie Lisa Nibbe struggled at times for the Wingers but stood tall when it mattered most, making multiple saves as the Wingers killed off a penalty with 3:12 left in regulation. Nibbe made 21 saves in the victory.
As the overtime period began, Hutchinson head coach Mitch Fabel said he knew his team was tired and in need of a quick goal.
“We were hoping to strike quick,” he said.
Instead, Schammel connected on the game-winner 4:07 into the overtime period. The goal gave her 50 for the season as she continues to gain confidence with each tally.
“Nicole did a terrific job,” Scott Haley said. “(Her goal scoring) is an asset you can’t take for granted.”
Now, the Wingers get to face top-seeded Breck Friday at 1 p.m at the Xcel Energy Center. The top-ranked Mustangs (23-2) defeated Chisago Lakes 7-3 in their first round matchup.
Scott Haley said he knows the game will come down to whether his top line can match Breck, led by Ms. Hockey finalist Milaca McMillen and Kate Schipper. Breck is probably the best team in the state Class A or AA but Haley said he is happy that most people don’t expect Red Wing to win.
“I like the fact we’re the underdog,” he said. “If anyone out there wants to root for the underdog, the outstate team, the rural team, come sit on our side. We’ll take all the support. We’re going to need it.”