By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Despite outshooting Willmar 62-17, Mankato East/Loyola needed nearly 70 minutes and two overtime periods before Saturday’s game was finally decided.
Rebekah Kolstad’s pass to a waiting Maddie McGargar proved the difference as the Cougars prevailed 4-3 Saturday in the Section 2A girls hockey semifinals in a tension-filled All Seasons Arena.
After a tripping penalty, the Cougars were shorthanded at the 9:48 mark of the second overtime. The Cougars won the faceoff, and Kolstad raced down the right side of the rink. McGargar trailed her and one-timed a wrist shot into the left corner of the net past Willmar goaltender Madison Sandberg.
“We were shorthanded?” Kolstad asked outside the Cougars’ locker room. “I don’t even remember; I just know it was a perfect shot.”
“And a perfect pass, too,” McCargar said. “It was a perfect play. I was just worried about getting it in the net.”
Willmar got on the board first at 4:46 of the first when a blue line shot from Riley Schneider leaked through Cougars’ goalie Katie Paulson’s pads. East/Loyola tied the game 10 minutes later when Savannah Quandt corralled her own rebound for the score.
The Cardinals retook the lead in the second period on a Miranda Roelof’s wrist shot before Kolstad evened the score after splitting the defense and lifting a wrist shot over Sandberg’s glove-side shoulder.
After Willmar killed a 5-on-3 penalty to start the third period, the Cougars took their first lead of the game four minutes later when Kolstad, on an assist from Katy Snyder, again lifted a wrist shot over Sandberg’s shoulder. The Cougars continued to control the puck and the shots-on-goal advantage, and appeared ripe to clinch the win.
But with 6:33 left in the game, Shelby Schneider tied the game.
“I give Willmar a lot of credit,” East/Loyola coach Nathan Fuller said. “Madison played tremendous; they really gave it their all. Both teams did.”
In the first overtime period, the Cougars nearly ended the game when a loose puck in the front of the net came inches away from crossing the line. Several Cougars on the ice, as well as the student section, began celebrating before the puck emerged from the net.
“I don’t really know what happened there,” Fuller said. “All they said was that it wasn’t a goal.”
After a break to resurface the ice following the first overtime session, McGargar said her team remained loose.
“We were calm,” she said. “We practiced this many times, having pressure situations. We just did our best to play like another period and didn’t stop believing.”
Earlier in the double overtime, the Cougars squandered a power play of their own.
“We didn't make it easy for ourselves,” Fuller said. “But I tip my hat to Willmar. What a game ... it was great to have this win in front of our home crowd.”
After the game, the Cougars basked in the glow of their nail-biting victory. Unfinished business remains, however.
“This was by far the best win I’ve been apart of,” Kolstad said. "But we've got another game at Gustavus to go.”
East/Loyola (22-5) plays Thursday at Gustavus Adolphus in the Section 2A championship.