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Top games: Conference, section rivals Willmar and Fergus Falls face off

By Heather Rule, SportsEngine , 01/30/23, 10:15AM CST


Jan. 31: Cards, Otters each rely on a tandem of goalies

We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.

Willmar vs. Fergus Falls

5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31

Two Central Lakes Conference and Class 1A, Section 6 foes meet in Fergus Falls this week. Fergus Falls, ranked No. 10-1A in the coaches’ poll released Jan. 24, hosts No. 18-1A Willmar after the Otters won the first meeting Jan. 12, a 1-0 affair with a goal from senior Maddie Hulter in the third period.

With the regular season coming to a close, could this be a section preview? Willmar won the section in 2020, and Fergus Falls took home the title in 2019. 

Fergus Falls (18-4-1) is unbeaten in its last 11 games. Hulter (23 goals, 24 assists) is the team’s best scorer and ranks 10th among Class 1A players in points. Senior Tyra Skjeret (18 goals, 21 assists) and freshman Hannah Johnson (13 goals, 12 assists) follow having also reached double-digit goal totals.

Since the calendar changed to 2023, the Otters haven’t allowed more than two goals in a game; they’re averaging only 1.43 goals allowed per game this season. The Otters have a goaltender tandem of junior Lexi Metcalf (9-2-1, 1.55 goals-against average and .914 save percentage) and junior Ana Jyrkas (9-2-0, 1.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage). Jyrkas made 18 saves in the first meeting with Willmar.

Willmar’s coming off a pair of 3-1 losses, plus they’ll travel to Hutchinson for a game on Monday, Jan. 30. Junior Chloe Lownsbury leads the team with 14 goals; she has all six of the team’s power-play goals. Lownsbury has six assists to put her second in points behind junior defenseman Makenna Larson (12 goals, 10 assists).

Willmar’s goals-against average is also below two at 1.95. The Cardinals also go with a goaltending duo in senior Halle Mortensen (5-4-1, 2.26 goals-against average, .897 save percentage) and sophomore Erin Eilers (6-4-0, 1.50 goals-against average, .947 save percentage). Eilers made 26 saves in the first meeting with Fergus Falls.

Delano/Rockford vs.
Mound Westonka/Southwest Christian

7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2

Another matchup of section and conference foes as No. 15-1A Delano/Rockford visits No. 9-1A Mound Westonka/Southwest Christian in a Wright County Conference game. Mound Westonka has won the last seven regular season meetings with Delano/Rockford. 

Delano/Rockford has lost five of its past seven games, getting shut out three times by 6-0 scores in that span, including once to Mound Westonka. Sophomore Kayleigh Olson leads the team with 11 goals and 17 points. Senior Ava Reierson (five goals, eight assists), junior Emma Treptau (five goals, five assists) and freshman Kaelyn Wittwer (seven goals, two assists) follow on the scoresheet. Junior Kayla Simonson sits as goaltender with a 1.85 goals-against average and .944 save percentage with six shutouts.

Mound Westonka, winners of seven of its last nine, is averaging 4.5 goals per game and cashing in on 33.8% of power-play opportunities. Junior Ashlyn Roth sees most of the time in between the pipes, giving her a 15-7 record with a 1.63 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and five shutouts. Senior Sydney Leonard is just outside the top-10 in Class 1A with her 47 points as the team’s leading scorer. Leonard has 22 goals and 25 assists; her 12 power-play assists rank third in the state overall.

Senior Gretta Pioske (19 goals, 18 assists) is second in points for Mound Westonka, and junior Camryn Hargreaves (14 goals, 21 assists) leads the team with six power-play goals to go with her seven power-play assists. Senior Emily Wendorf (four goals, 14 assists) is the top scorer on the blue line, with three goals and six assists coming on the power play.

Stillwater vs. Gentry Academy

7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31 

Two top-10 ranked teams in Class 2A come out of Section 4 in No. 9-2A Stillwater and No. 3-2A Gentry Academy.

Stillwater (18-4) sits atop the Suburban East Conference standings and comes off a victory outdoors on Hockey Day Minnesota. Gentry Academy defeated Stillwater 5-3 in the Breck holiday tournament in December and also twice in last year’s regular season. 

Stillwater (18-4) has won seven in a row since the loss to Gentry Academy. The Ponies are tight defensively, allowing 1.59 goals per game, thanks to junior Lily Timmons (15-4) in net with her 1.61 goals-against average and .921 save percentage with three shutouts; she made 29 saves against Gentry Academy in December.

Junior Josie Lang (14 goals, 17 assists), junior Addison Finn (10 goals, 17 assists) and senior Kylie Ligday (four goals, 17 assists) all have 20+ point seasons from the blue line. Ligday leads the team in power-play assists with nine. On the forward end, junior Josie St. Martin continues her solid season with 20 goals and 25 assists; she has four goals and eight points in her past three games.

Gentry Academy (18-2) averages just under seven goals per game, but allows just 1.90 goals per game. The Stars also have a solid power play which scores 32.1% of the time. Their only regulation loss this season came in a 10-7 decision at Warroad on Dec. 3; the Stars also lost to Proctor/Hermantown in overtime.

Senior Cara Sajevic leads Gentry Academy with 20 goals and 24 assists, followed by senior Grace Delmonico (21 goals, 18 assists). Keep an eye on the senior offensive-defensemen sisters Jenessa Gazdik (13 goals, 22 assists) and JuliAnna Gazdik (11 goals, 20 assists). JuliAnna leads the team with seven power-play assists. Senior Zoe Laming (11-1-0) has seen the most minutes in net, with a 1.76 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

Other games to keep an eye on

Blake vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31.  Three of the top-20 teams in Class 2A come from Section 6. Either of these two teams are hoping to dethrone Edina, which has won the last seven section titles. Blake is ranked No. 19 while Benilde-St. Margaret’s sits at No. 12. Blake won the first meeting, 3-2 on Dec. 20 at home. The Bears then lost four in a row before a signature 1-0 victory over Edina on Jan. 17. The Bears and Red Knights split the season series last year.

Moorhead vs. Warroad, 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2. Warroad has been the top-ranked team in Class 1A all season long with some of the state’s top scorers. Moorhead, no doubt hoping to grab momentum as it looks for its first section championship, is ranked No. 11 in Class 2A and has won seven of its last nine games. Warroad defeated Moorhead 3-2 on Jan. 21.

Hill-Murray vs. Maple Grove, 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 4. Hill-Murray is playing well at the right time, good for the No. 2 ranking in Class 2A, its highest ranking all season. Goaltender Grace Zhan has a 1.09 goals-against average with a .954 save percentage. She’ll likely go up against another top goaltender in Dani Strom (11-2-1, 1.04 goals-against average, .957 save percentage) for No. 7-2A Maple Grove. The two goalies rank No. 4 (Strom) and No. 5 (Zhan) in the state in goals-against average.

Top Games poll

The MN Girls' Hockey Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.

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