Hockey outlasts even Super Bowl Weekend

John Gilbert

Saint Scholastica goaltender Makenzie Cole made a desperation dive to thwart St. Mary's Reese Heitzman's breakaway. (Photos by John Gilbert)

Super Bowl Weekend arrived at last, and, as usual, all the hyped and lengthy commercials and halftime epics, plus four quarters of high-intensity football, could not diminish the normal weekend sports in our area.

To help clear the air for the Super Bowl, both of our Division I teams were not playing at home. The Bulldog men had a week off, while the women had the chance to extend their peculiar success story by sweeping two games at St. Thomas. The bonus transfer of Reece Hunt as a grad student from Bemidji State paid rich dividends as she scored all four goals in Friday’s 4-1 victory and added the game-winning goal and an assist in Saturday’s 5-1 game. That all changes this weekend, as the Super Bowl is over and we’re free of football for a few months, while we have AMSOIL Arena doubleheaders both Friday and Saturday.

The UMD women have an enormous series against St. Cloud State at 3 p.m. both days, serving as the appetizer both days even though their two games will decide home ice against their opponent for the first round of WCHA playoffs in two weeks, or whether the two will reconvene at St.Cloud. The UMD women are 1-1 against St. Cloud State, while standing 12-0 against the bottom three teams, but 1-9 against the top three.

The men, who have found it a struggle to climb into contention in the NCHC, have games against pre-season favorite Denver at 6 p.m. both days, which means you could choose to spend either or both days at AMSOIL to see if the UMD women can hang onto fourth place and home ice, or if new-found rival St. Cloud State might be able to snap its losing streak and reclaim first-round home ice. Denver is not exactly dominating after a strong start. the Pioneers have slipped to fifth behind North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Western Michigan, and Colorado College in the tightly bunched NCHC.

Yes, the Super Bowl was fantastic — at the finish — but for three quarters it pretty much droned along in a dull presentation of defenses. But the fourth quarter made up for all of that, and it appeared Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers were going to unseat the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. In our family, everybody was pulling for the 49ers, for a variety of reasons, except for me. I kept saying when the chips were down, never bet against Patrick Mahomes, who continues to play like Brett Favre on game-ending drives. He did it again, taking the Chiefs down the field in the final minute with cool precision, and throwing a little 3-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown with 0:03 remaining in overtime.

That erased a 22-19 lead the 49ers staked their hopes on to start overtime, and it gave Mahomes 34-46 passing for 333 yards and two touchdowns, along with 9 rushes for a team-leading 66 yards — several of them crucial for first downs on that last drive. If you want to know how good the San Francisco defense was, Mahomes only got one pass to Travis Kelce in the first half, then Kelce shook free and Mahomes hit him with 8 more passes in the second half. Purdy was 23-38 for 255 yards and one touchdown.

After one of her 38 saves, Cole got a moment's relaxation.

Mahomes won the MVP award, for the back-to-back Super Bowl wins, but despite the assembled gang of analysts that insisted victory would mean the Chiefs were a dynasty, let’s get one thing straight: This modern-day NFL doesn’t have room for dynasties. Parity dominates, and on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other, and even the Vikings could take down the 49ers in the right circumstance. But while I thought the Detroit Lions lost to the 49ers in a day of botched officials calls, and Baltimore, Buffalo and Dallas were all extremely strong, we can declare that the Chiefs and the 49ers were the best two survivors, and when the big trophy was on the line, Mahomes remains the best survivor of them all.

It’s altogether fitting and proper that we watch the girls high school hockey sections get decided this week with some outstanding games, and their ever-increasing skill level makes the games and the sections more competitive than ever. The same holds true for Division 3 college hockey, where St. Scholastica split two captivating games against St. Mary’s last weekend. Despite the heavy emphasis on Division I college hockey, the caliber of Division 3 has risen amazingly, both in skill and tempo.

The Saints split two games with St. Mary’s, losing 2-1 in overtime Friday after the Saints saw a 2-1 lead disappear with 1:18 remaining, but then the Saints came back against the favored Cardinals Saturday night at Mars-Lakeview Arena. It was a tough game, and thankfully the Saints had sophomore Makenzie Cole, from Grand Rapids-Greenway, in the nets. She came back after a 60-save performance in the first game to blunt the St. Mary’s attack on Saturday afternoon.

Outshot 12-2 in the early going, the Saints got a power-play goal from Abby Pohlkamp to claim a 1-0 lead. Early in the second period, Allie Bussey from Hibbing carried up the left side and passed to the slot, where Jessie Ketola of Silver Bay drilled a shot into the lower right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead. Cole, meanwhile, occupied herself by stopping several point-blank chances and a breakaway or two and keep it 2-0 until the final minute of the middle period.

Killing a penalty, the Saints failed to clear their zone with a too-soft pass, and Kennedy Krause stepped in to intercept, whistling a screened shot past Cole at 19:22. Early in the third period, a peculiar length-of-the-ice rush by the Cardinals started with a collision at the St. Mary’s end that caused an official to signal a delayed penalty. Before it could be whistled, the Cardinal rusher was taken down and sent hurtling into Cole in the Saints goal. Another official called that one, so the Saints were two skaters down at 2:30 of the final period. Sophia Paduano scored at 2:47 on the power play to tie the game 2-2.

Cole and Cardinals goalie Celeste Rimstad dueled from there, and it stayed 2-2 until the third period ended and the 3-on-3 overtime also elapsed without a goal. That sent it to a three-skater shootout. St. Mary’s shot first, but Cole stopped Celia Midtbo, then Rimstad stopped the Saints Bussey. On the second turn, Cole was again flawless, foiling Paduano, while Pohlkamp sailed in next for the Saints and fired a shot into the St. Mary’s net.

Has Kingston had the third try for the Cardinals, but when Cole held her ground, Kingston slightly fumbled the puck and missed, giving the Saints a high emotional shootout victory. It was deserving of a celebration for Saints coach Julianne Vasichek, who was celebrating her birthday, as well as nine years since surviving a liver transplant, and, last week, was announced to UMD’s all-time 25-year all-star team. Vasichek was a two-time NCAA champion and All-America for the Bulldogs and remains in contact with former UMD coach Shannon Miller, who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

Not a bad way to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports week. Vasichek, from Montana, also made a quick trip to St. Paul and watched former teammates play in the seventh and deciding game of the Rivalry Tour, won 6-1 by Canada over the U.S. at Excel Energy Center. The U.S. won the first three games in the series, but Canada stormed back to win the next three before the Game 7 blowout. 

Cole deflected a shot by former Proctor-Hermantown star Reese Heitzman up and over the goal.