by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
If the Elk River-Zimmerman girl skaters could have hung on for just 51 more seconds Thursday, they would have made their fourth state trip in five years.
Instead, the Elks gave up a goal that tied it 1-1 and had to duke it out for almost another hour with Grand Rapids-Greenway and in four excruciating overtimes lost 2-1 in the Section 7AA finals at Grand Rapids.
The No. 7 ranked Elks, who beat Duluth 5-1 in the semifinals last Saturday, finished 20-4-3, while No. 19 GRG avenged last year’s 4-1 section finals loss to the Elks plus a 3-2 loss in January, and will take an 18-7-3 ledge to the state tournament.
Josie Brown gave the Elks a 1-0 lead with a shot from the point in the second period but that was all the Elks could muster in 47 shots against Lightning goalie Sydney Helmbrecht.
GRG, outshot 47-35, grew fierce in the third period, putting intense pressure on goalie Tori Herrmann. The Elks clung to their lead as Herrmann made several tough saves but Kaya Baker slipped one past her with :51 left.
Play was evened out again through the multiple overtimes, even when GRG star Molly Illikainen left the ice in the first OT and ERZ star Jonna Curtis left in the third OT with penalties. Each team weathered the two-minute power play.
But the Lightning, at home despite being No. 2 seed behind the Elks, finally settled the issue when Illikainen fired a shot over Hermann’s shoulder 2:45 into the fourth OT, her 32nd goal of the season. She took the puck across center ice with two Elk defenders in pursuit and got loose to shoot from just inside the circle.
Curtis was not able to add to her season total of 36 and make her fourth state trip, as the Illkainen-Baker line went head-to-head with her line and got the best of them.