For five Brainerd Warrior seniors, their 6-0 Central Lakes Conference girls' hockey victory over the Sartell Sabres Thursday may have been the most emotional.
It was the last regular-season home game for Megan Whalen, Sarah Johnson, Rachel Obeidzinski, Samantha Gunning and Brooke Plested. All five played a pivotal part in Brainerd's 12th triumph of the season and eighth conference victory.
"This was really nice," said Whalen. "It's really cool because our whole team got in on the act. That made it a lot more fun and meaningful."
Obeidzinski started things off with her first-period goal at 4:16. It was her seventh goal of the season and fourth in the last six games.
"Obeidzinski got us started off," said Warriors coach Chuck Whalen. "It was a beautiful goal. She came across the slot, beat the goalie and hit it stick side low."
Megan Whalen and Samantha Gunning then assisted on Erin Holznagel's first-period goal.
In the second period, Holznagel scored her ninth goal of the season. She used spectacular footwork to get past the defense and give Brainerd a 3-0 lead.
"I looked up the ice and I saw that the defender didn't know which way I was going," said Holznagel. "So I faked left and went right. The second defender kind of got in the way. She screened both me and the goalie, but I've been working on my shot and I tried to get it in the corner and it went in."
It was Megan Whalen's turn to find the back of the net as she scored 2:10 into the third period off an assist from Gunning.
With a 5-on-3 advantage, Megan Whalen followed her first power-play goal with another power-play score at 6:15 in the third. Holznagel assisted on that goal for her team-leading 12th assist.
"That was the best part, winning it for the seniors," said Holznagel. "A few of us wore the seniors' numbers on our jerseys and I think that spurred us to play better. We knew this was their last game and we wanted to win it for them."
Hannah Impola finished things off as she flopped a dribbling puck past Sabres goalie Maddie Haroldson.
"(Assistant) coach (Jim) Ernster and I noticed in that first period that we were jumping on pucks like we haven't in a long time," said Chuck Whalen. "We looked like we were very hungry.
"All of the girls knew that this was the final home game for all of these seniors and I think they wanted to make this a special night."
Goalie Sarah Johnson recorded her sixth win. She stopped all eight Sabre shots for the shutout.
"It's sad, but it really hasn't hit," said Johnson about playing her last home game. "All the girls are real emotional, but it really hasn't hit me that I'm a senior and I'm not coming back next year."
Sartell was only able to attempt eight shots thanks to the work of the Warriors' defense. Gunning and Plested led the stingy defense that kept Sartell at bay.
"Our defense is doing a lot better," said Johnson. "They really picked it up the last half of the season."
The Warriors could have tied for third place in the conference, but St. Cloud Apollo beat St. Cloud Tech. Brainerd's fourth-place finish is the highest finish in the five years of the program.
"This was a nice way to finish conference play," said Chuck Whalen. "We talked to the girls earlier about finishing strong and doing the most we could to get the highest finish we could achieve.
"Now we get a chance to go against probably one of the top four seeds in our section (at Moorhead) on Saturday."
Section 8, Class 2A seedings will be determined today.
For us, realistically, our coaching staff thought if we could be around a .500 team for the year that would be a major accomplishment," said Chuck Whalen. "We're going to end up a little better than that so as far as I'm concerned the girls have overachieved."
Sartell 0 0 0 -- 0
Brainerd 2 1 3 -- 6
First period -- 1, B-Rachel Obeidzinski (unassisted) 4:16; 2, B-Erin Holznagel (Megan Whalen, Samantha Gunning) 10:39 ppg
Second period -- 3, B-Holznagel (unassisted) 5:35
Third period -- 4, B-Whalen (Gunning) 2:10 ppg; 5, B-Whalen (Holznagel) 6:15 ppg; B-Hannah Impola (Whalen, Gunning) 14:30
Shots on goal -- B 14 12 10 -- 36, S 1 4 3 -- 8
Goalies -- B Sarah Johnson (8 saves), S Maddie Haroldson (30 saves)
Power-play opportunities -- B 3-6, S 0-2
Conference -- B 8-4-1. Overall -- B 12-7-2. Next game -- Brainerd at Moorhead 5 p.m. Saturday.
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