The Lakeland girls’ hockey team opened the playoffs with a match-up against Great Northern Conference opponent Northland Pines.
Lakeland, the seven seed, traveled to Eagle River to face the second-seeded Eagles, the eighth-ranked team in the state.
After two periods, Lakeland trailed the Eagles 2-0, but came out strong in the third period, narrowing the gap to 2-1 after Izzy Johnson found Brina Trapp for a goal.
Pines was able to add three more goals, and advanced in the playoffs with a 5-1 victory over Lakeland.
Senior goalie Megan Hudy recorded 34 saves on Pines’ 39 shots on goal, an .872 save percentage. Lakeland put eight shots on goal in the game.
Head coach Steve Bucklew said that Lakeland once again hung around against one of the state’s best teams.
“We did what we had to do to give ourselves a chance to win at the end,” Bucklew said. “We just couldn’t quite pull it off.”
Bucklew said Lakeland tried to limit the Eagles’ opportunities on the night, looking to steal a goal here or there.
“Obviously they are a strong team,” Bucklew said. “Basically, we just played as defensively as we could and tried to take our shots when we could.”
Lakeland’s strategy paid off early, as the Thunderbirds made it a one-goal game in the third period on Trapp’s goal. The lone goal was all Lakeland would get, however, and Pines was able to secure the victory.
“It was 2-1 halfway through the third period, and I really thought once we scored in that third period it could really go either way to whoever scored that next goal,” he said. “They did, unfortunately, and the floodgates kind of opened after that.”
Bucklew said the loss came despite a great effort from Lakeland that was noticed by the refs and opposing coaches.
“The girls gave a great effort, and we got a lot of compliments from their coaches and the referees, so we were pretty happy with that,” Bucklew said.
Bucklew said Hudy was outstanding in the net for Lakeland.
“Megan played out of her mind; she played great,” Bucklew said. “It was probably her best game of the season.”
Hudy, as well as the rest of Lakeland’s seniors – Taylor Bricco, Taylor Lopez, Jordan Bucklew, Jacie Duranso and Cali Hunter – played in their last game as T-Birds.
“It was tough, I had been with that group since they were small, before high school,” Bucklew said. “It was a tough night, but they went out the way they should. They played as hard as they could and left it all out there, and they have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Bucklew said the experience was great for the younger girls as well, and the team will head into next season with the knowledge that they can compete against the best teams in the state.
“Once we got into the season, I think they realized that we could play with some of these teams, the co-ops and bigger schools,” Bucklew said. “I think that was sort of the problem early, because in their head when they’re playing these co-ops and strong schools, it’s really easy to slip into that defeatist attitude. It took us a couple games to hang in there, and they realized if we played perfectly we could hang.”
As Bucklew said, once Lakeland understood they could compete with anyone, they started to get closer against the stronger co-op teams across the state.
“We hung in just about every game, although the final score didn’t always show it,” Bucklew said. “Usually we were in games the first and second period.”
Whether Lakeland ran out of gas with a short bench or the opposing team just found a way to win, Lakeland’s losses this season often happened in the third period. But that trend wasn’t always the case, as the team found its groove in the second half of the season and started to put together some strong performances.
“They did improve every game, and that was kind of our goal, to just get better each week,” Bucklew said. “We had a couple of setbacks here or there, but I think that’s just what we did.”
Following the GNC season, Lakeland received one all-conference selection, with Johnson taking home honorable mention honors. Bucklew said her offensive skills are impressive, as evidenced by her 26 goals and nine assists on the year.
As Bucklew said, Johnson, and the rest of the team, worked together as a unit, and the team saw production from across the board during the season, with nine girls scoring goals and nearly everyone on the team picking up at least one assist.
“That’s the kind of the team we had,” Bucklew said. “We didn’t have a lot of stand-outs, we just had a lot of blue-collar girls who go out and just play hard, and I prefer a team like that. That gives you something to build on.”
Jim Oxley may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.