In the break between the third period and overtime, Elk River/Zimmerman coach Dale Sager let his assistants do most of the talking. The Elks, ranked ranked No. 6 in Class 2A according to the coaches’ poll, had limited No. 4-2A Blaine, a team averaging eight goals per game, to just one in regulation.
His coaching staff talked about positive attitudes and the mental approach to winning. Then Sager spoke up. Just before the sudden-death period began, he asked his team a question.
“Who wants to be a winner tonight?”
Thirty-six seconds into overtime, senior defenseman Kennedi Mitchell answered. She fired a wrist shot past Bengals goalie Jaela O’Brien to give Elk River (9-2, 8-1) its third consecutive win.
“I’m usually not a goal scorer,” Mitchell said, putting air quotes around the final two words. “I’m kind of a stay-at-home defenseman and I don’t usually score goals.”
Mitchell’s most recent performances would belie that claim. The defenseman scored two goals in a 3-2 win over Centennial on Saturday, including the game-winner.
“I’m beginning to turn a new leaf over,” she said, laughing.
That turn has come at an opportune time for the Elks. Elk River is in the midst of a three-game stretch against a trio of top-10 teams. No. 7-2A Centennial on Saturday. No. 4-2A Blaine (8-2, 6-2) Tuesday. No.10-2A Forest Lake at home Thursday.
This conference stretch will likely be the toughest of the season for Elk River.
“We really wanted to identify ourselves in this stretch of hockey on what kind of team we wanted to be,” Sager said. “Things are high at the moment.”
The Elks were on the back foot foot for much of the third period, killing off two penalties while goalie Megan Jung made 34 saves, including a few big ones in the final minutes.
Elk River knew that kind of defense would be required to pull off a win; Blaine entered Tuesday outscoring its opponents 72-7.
The mood was especially high in light of Elk River's first win at Fogerty Arena in recent memory. Minnesota Hockey Hub’s archives show the last road victory against the Bengals came on Dec. 22, 2009 — almost seven years ago.
These stretches not only test the physical limits of a team, but also the mental ones. Defenseman Ellie Humphrey said it can be hard to focus on one game when so much pressure mounts on a few.
“It’s almost a mental game,” she said. “You look at it one game at a time, but (the others are) always in the back of your mind.”
Kennedi Mitchell scored 36 seconds into overtime to give Elk River (9-2, 8-1) a 2-1 win over Blaine (8-2, 6-2) Tuesday night at Fogerty Arena.
Mitchell, a defenseman, caught a pass from Ellie Humphrey in the high slot and fired it past Bengals goalie Jaela O’Brien’s blocker for the win. Elk River, ranked No. 6 in Class 2A according to the state coaches’ poll, notched its first victory against Blaine since Jan. 17, 2015.
The scoring started in the second period. Blaine’s Gabby Rosenthal scored her fourteenth goal of the season, pounding home a rebound on the powerplay at 8:29 of the period.
Elk River responded just over three minutes later on a two-on-one. Jenna Korinek’s one-timer rebounded to Shae-Elle McLean, who fired a backhand into the open net to tie the game.
The Elks killed off two third-period penalties to force overtime. Goalie Megan Jung made 34 saves. The No. 4-2A Bengals hadn’t lost at home since Dec. 8, 2015, at the hands of Centennial.
Senior forward Shae-Elle McLean lead Elk River/Zimmerman with a goal and an assist. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine