Home sport Edina holds off Pioneers for Class AA title

Edina holds off Pioneers for Class AA title

Edina holds off Pioneers for Class AA title
The Hornets bench erupted after the final buzzer in their 2-0 win over Hale-Murray in the Class AA championship game.

Hale-Murray scored three goals in the first half in their first two matches in the tournament. This early success led to two wins and put them in the championship game against rival Edina. But the Pioneers couldn't break down Edina's defense or goalie Reece McConnell on Saturday in the title game. On the other hand, Edina's Lorelai Nelson had two great plays to lead the Hornets to a 2-0 victory and their fifth division championship in school history.

“We got three in the first game against Rousseau and three in the first game against Andover,” Hill-Murray coach John Paul said. “We are the type of team that if we score the first goal the game gets better for us. We couldn't get that first night. If we get a goal early it will be a completely different game.”

Grace Zhan finished her senior season with a 1.39 GAA and 0.946 Sv%.

Grace Zhan, who was a big reason for the Pioneers' appearance in the title game, was brilliant again in the opening frame. Zahn's 10 saves in the first half were anything but easy, as he cleared two of the Hornets' shots and two close-range attempts. The biggest save came with less than three minutes left when Edina put four straight shots into the net, but Zahn was up to the task.

The second period was more of the same. Zahn and McConnell put on a clinic on net and kept the game scoreless through two periods.

Zahn displayed her excellent vision by blocking several shots with her gloves, including a shot from the circle by Hannah Halvorson with less than a minute left. McConnell matched her counterpart with five impressive saves, including a glove save of her own.

Hill-Murray's best scoring chance of the period came when Emily Pohl worked her way straight into the slot and delivered a great look to McConnell, who turned it away with a cushion save.

As the third period entered with a goalless draw, it seemed that a lucky rebound or man advantage could be the key to turning things around in favor of either team. That proved true when Hale-Murray converted a powerful penalty kick midway through the third period. The Hornets took possession of almost the entire power play before Nelson found Horton wide open in the circle with a brilliant no-look pass. Horton, who had as hot a stick as any player in the state during the playoffs, fired the ball past Zahn into the top right corner for a 1-0 lead with 7:02 left.

Patience and flexibility were key for Edina, who kept the pressure going throughout the match and were waiting for the break.

“We faced an incredibly talented goaltender,” Edina coach Sammy Koger said. “(It was important) not to get discouraged and keep going to work.”

The Hornets remained in control over the next several minutes of the period and once again found themselves in Pioneers territory. With just 4:13 remaining, Nelson found herself back with the puck and made good use of it, weaving her way through the Pioneers' defense and sniping it into the top right corner.

This attempt by Lorelai Nelson was thwarted by Hale-Murray's Grace Zahn, but Nelson recovered the ball, got past two Hale-Murray defenders, and put a shot past Zahn for a 2-0 lead.

“Whoever scored that goal has amazing skill,” Zahn said after the match. “I put it in the right corner. It was a great shot.”

The Hornets took a 2-0 lead late, and even after Zahn was pulled, the Pioneers couldn't muster much offense against a stout defensive Edina team. Edina had little fuel in her tank.

“I am so proud of our girls,” Buhl said. “They fought incredibly hard. I think we just ran out of gas. We didn't seem to have that push.”

For the Cougars, who now have five titles under her belt as head coach, this was especially nice because the Hornets weren't necessarily preseason favorites.

“This year has not been easy for us,” she said. “We had our ups and downs. There were a lot of learning moments.”

A Dec. 5 team meeting that lasted late into the night, coupled with Cowger bringing three players from the JV team to the varsity team, seemed to light a fire under a team that was searching for its identity.

“I couldn't be prouder of this team,” Koger said. “They showed up and bought in at the right time.”

The team that finished the season was much different than the team that started it.

“In the last couple of weeks, they've wanted it more,” she said.

The Hornets finished the championship season with a 23-6-1 record. The Pioneers finished their impressive season with a 26-3-1 record.

“It was a good hockey game,” said Buhl of Murray Hill. “Props to Edina. They are a great team. They deserved to win.”



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