Courtesy of the Worthington Daily Globe.
WORTHINGTON — Entering Thursday’s regular-season finale, the Worthington Trojan girls hockey team hadn’t had a lead all year.
But with a flick of her wrist, Kya Nickel changed all that.
The eighth-grade forward scored twice as the Trojans led for a total of 29 minutes and 30 seconds in Thursday night’s game against the Windom Area Eagles. However, the Eagles scored three unanswered goals to escape with a 3-2 victory.
“We played fantastic,” Nickel said. “We didn’t give up and that’s what really counts. We kept with them. It was a very good game. We skated hard, we worked hard.”
WHS scored twice on seven shots on goal, while goalie Bailey Kruse made 58 saves for the Trojans.
“There’s no reason any of those girls need to have their head down, including Bailey,” WHS head coach Eric Milbrath said. “She played a fantastic game. Offense played well, defense played well, it’s a bad bounce. Maybe next time they go our way.”
Molly Boyum scored twice and Anna Volk added a goal for the Eagles, who won their third game over the Trojans this season.
“We were worried for the first two periods,” Windom Area head coach Bill Fredin said. “(In the third period) we crashed the net a little better and had a few more people going to the net. We were skating a little harder to open pucks. In the first period, I think we took it easy thinking we were going to win no matter what. We have to play every game like it means something.”
The two teams skated nearly 10 minutes of the first period to a scoreless tie. But with 7:53 remaining, Nickel scored her first goal on an assist from Anya Hartzler.
“Anya Hartzler and Taylor Bryngelson were battling over in the corner with some of the Windom girls,” Nickel said. “The puck came towards me and the goalie, she was down in a butterfly. I just rammed it at the net and it went under her arm and in.”
Despite being outshot 15-1 in the first period, the Trojans took a one-goal advantage into the first intermission.
“After our first goal, we all kind of perked up,” Kruse said. “I don’t think any of us expected this. They have a couple of really good girls and they kind of beat us pretty bad last time. None of us were expecting this. We came into the locker room all happy. None us really knew what to do about that I don’t think.”
The Trojans had lost to the Eagles 4-0 and 8-1 already this season. And on Tuesday, Luverne handed WHS a 13-0 loss.
“At practice on Wednesday, we ran a couple simple drills and let them have a little fun,” Milbrath said. “We did a couple drills they like to do that they have fun with. That worked, I think, just getting back to the enjoyment of the game.”
It didn’t take long for the Trojans to score their second goal of the night. This time, Taylor Bryngelson assisted Nickel for the goal and with 14:52 remaining in the second period, WHS led 2-0.
“We were overjoyed,” Nickel said. “We were all freaking out and so happy. We had the biggest of smiles on our faces.”
With 8:11 left in the second, Boyum scored on assists from Katrina LaCanne and Abby Ignaszewski, cutting the lead to one at the second intermission.
“It was a different feeling for the girls and a different atmosphere. They came in and they took it just like they were down 2-0. They stayed focused and they were ready to go each period,” Milbrath said. “It was definitely thrilling. We came in after the second period still pumped. We just got them refocused and preached that we have 17 miles to go and just get to that promise land. We just came up a little short tonight.”
Volk tied the game early in the third period after rebounding a Boyum shot, and with seven minutes left, Boyum scored what proved to be the game winner.
But the Trojans didn’t go down without a fight. With 1:45 remaining, Milbrath pulled Kruse from the net to go six on five. While WHS wasn’t able to score, it didn’t allow any more Windom Area goals as the Eagles earned a 3-2 victory.
“It was a little disappointing,” Nickel said. “But we are still proud of ourselves for how we skated. That was a very good game.”
Both teams will now await seeds for the upcoming Section 3A tournament, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
“I think we’re doing a lot better now,” Kruse said. “We have our heads up way farther, so hopefully we should be able to realize we can do some damage if we really want to.”
Windom 0 1 2 — 3
Worthington 1 1 0 — 2