When a sports season comes to an end, particularly when that end comes in a close but losing effort, the temptation is to dwell on what might have been.
There were plenty of might-have-beens to dwell on for the Brainerd Warrior girls' hockey team after its season-ending 3-0 loss to the Moorhead Spuds in the Section 8 semifinals Tuesday.
There were the two power-play goals that the Warriors gave up. And there were the three Brainerd power-play opportunities that went by the boards. There was also another sparkling performance in goal by sophomore goaltender Mandy Hanson.
Despite all those might-have-beens, the team refused to overlook its many accomplishments. This was the first time the Warrior girls' team reached a section semifinal game. The team also posted a number of other firsts.
"We had the most wins (16) and the fewest losses (8) ever in the program," said Warriors coach Chuck Whalen. "I noticed the other day that we had broken through the 200-point plateau. I would never have guessed that; it just amazed me when I added everything up. Our goals-against average was also very good.
"Both our goalies, Mandy Hanson and Sarah Johnson, were under two goals against. They kept us in a lot of games. Getting to the section semifinals is as far as we've ever gotten. Getting to this game in and of itself is a big step for our program."
This night, against the Spuds, Hanson was again spectacular. She made a variety of lunging, diving saves, stopped a number of hard, point-blank shots and snuffed out numerous rebound opportunities. Her 28 saves were enough to keep the Warriors in the game but not enough to get them into the section finals.
Moorhead opened the scoring when Tanaya Reitz capitalized on a power-play opportunity with Brainerd wing Erin Holznagel off for tripping. That goal remained the game's only score until defenseman Crystal Sorenson extended the Spuds' lead to 2-0 at 12:02 of the second period with a beautiful, rink-long rush.
Sorenson picked up the puck to the right of her own goal, carried to center ice and wove her way past several Warrior defenders and into the Brainerd zone. Picking up speed and power, she breezed across the crease and beat Hanson by sliding a shot into the lower right corner.
Moorhead dominated throughout the first two periods as the Warriors had trouble mounting a serious or sustained attack on the Spuds' goal.
"They're skilled and they're deep," said Whalen of the Moorhead team. "They're solid on three lines and their defensemen are good. They play both ends of the rink so well. Every time we had any kind of offensive threat it was like their whole team was already back.
"We didn't have any-odd man rushes, we didn't have any three-on-threes; by the time we hit their blue line, it was like three-on-fives, they backcheck so well. They played a real good team game; the kind of effort you need to win section championships and maybe even some games in a state tournament."
Moorhead puts a big, fast, strong team on the rink. The size of the Spuds seemed to wear the Warriors down during the first two periods. As the game wore on, it seemed Brained was skating on softer ice, trying to move the puck uphill.
"Our girls were tired from playing in our end," said Whalen. "Moorhead forechecks so well that you spend all of your time and expend all of your energy trying to get out of your own end. By the time you get to your blue line, you're just dumping the puck and trying to make a line change. So there's never any offense."
As the third period unfolded, Brainerd battled back and found its way into the Moorhead zone with more frequency. Trailing 2-0, the Warriors faced an uphill battle. With 3:07 left in the game, Samantha Gunning took her second penalty of the contest and that hill turned into a mountain.
And, when Reitz scored her second power-play goal of the night at 13:59 for a 3-0 Spud lead, the mountain became all but unscalable.
"We've had great penalty killing all year," said Whalen. "But they have all their great players out there on power play. No. 20 (Sorenson) has the big slap shot; No. 9 (Reitz) has great puck handling ability and No. 13 (Maggie Souba) can really fly."
The 3-0 loss meant the end of the season and may have presented the opportunity for players and coaches to mourn over what might have been. But, instead, the Warriors took the loss in stride and took time to savor what they had accomplished during the season.
"It was fun," said senior captain Natalie Dunphy. "Tonight our goaltending was, as it has been all year, incredible. Our team didn't give up the entire game. We had a couple of opportunities but didn't get them in. It's awesome getting this far and playing so well. We've never gotten this far so it's cool for all of us."
Moorhead 1 1 1 -- 3
Brainerd 0 0 0 -- 0
First period -- 1, M-Tanaya Reitz (Sarah Halseth, Kirsten Paulson) ppg. 7:14
Second period -- 2, M-Crystal Sorenson 12:02
Third period -- 3, M-Reitz ppg. 13:59
Shots on goal -- B 10; M31
Goalies -- B Mandy Hanson (28 saves); M Amber Lindner (10 saves)
Power-play opportunities -- B 0-3; M 2-3
Overall -- Brainerd 16-8-2.
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