Hockey: Long night’s journey — Elks, Grand Rapids reflect on 4-overtime section final

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

There was one consolation after Elk River-Zimmerman’s crushing four-overtime loss to Grand Rapids-Greenway, 2-1, on Thursday evening in the Section 7AA finals.

“I told the girls, you played in a four-overtime game.That doesn’t happen very often, and everyone will remember that game,” said Elk coach Joe Heasley.

Elk senior star Jonna Curtis, denied a fourth state trip in her five-year career, admitted the loss was a “heartbreaker.”

But she added, “It was better to lose in four overtimes than just a regular loss.”

The marathon at Grand Rapids brought to mind another four-OT game by the Elk River boys a few years back, also a section finals loss.

“We were very tired. We were just trying to push through,” said Curtis. “I think both sides were equally tired.”

Said Heasley: “Both teams were so dead tired, I didn’t know if anyone wold have enough energy left to score to end it.”

Molly Illikainen apparently had just enough. The Lightning senior forward gained control of a loose puck and skated down the left side wing, created some space and sent a laser over the glove of Elk goalie Tori Herrmann at 2:36 of the fourth OT, her 32nd goal of the year and third against the Elks in two games.

“In the middle of the first, I was just like, get that break so I could re-do my legs,” Illikainen told the Grand Rapids Herald Review. “Four overtimes, are you kidding me?

“It was good. We worked hard and said we had to play to win and refuse to lose. We couldn’t play to lose and had to go for it. We wanted it so bad from losing to them so many times.”

The Lightning had lost to the Elks twice last year, 5-1 and 4-1, the latter in the section finals, and again 3-2 this year in the regular season.

“Wow. It wasn’t just an overtime game, it wasn’t just a good section final, it was one of those rare games,” GRG co-head coach Brad Hyduke said to his local paper. “Seventh period, fourth overtime, and not surprising, it was the key people that we thought. Our team defense was phenomenal. Syd stood on her head, played amazing and our captain and leader finished it.”

The Elks had a 24-7 shot edge after two periods, and controlled the flow of the game up to then. But they only got one shot past GRG goalie Sydney Helmbrecht, that by senior Josie Brown from the point in the second period. The GRG goalie would finish with 46 saves.

Emily Heid, soph forward, was credited by Heasley for doing a great job filling in a defenseman for Kaylee Forster, who was ineligible due to a boarding penalty in the semifinals. Heid was an emergency choice and “looked like she’d been playing there all season.”

GRG, stymied for two periods, seized the upper hand in the third period.

“We had three penalties in the third period, and that completely changed the momentum,” said Heasley. “They  peppered us pretty good. Tori made some  big saves.”

Herrmann wound up with 36 saves.

“Their goalie was outstanding, and so was Tori,” said Curtis. “She’s the one who kept us in the game.”

The Elks 1-0 lead stood until 51 seconds remained. With the goalie pulled, and GRG skating 6-on-5, Kaya Baker, a junior forward who’d been threatening all night, scored on the Lightning’s 15th shot of the period. A shot by Aspen Anderson had been stopped by Herrmann’s shin pad, but the rebound came free to Baker who slid it past Herrmann.

“My backhand was right there and I just shoved it right over and it trickled in. It was awesome and very relieving,” Baker told the Herald Review.

In the overtimes, the play reverted to being more even. The Elks had a big chance in the first OT when Illikainen spent two minutes in the box and the favor was returned in the third period when Curtis sat two minutes.. Both times, the beleaguered defense hunkered down and survived. In the third period things heated up a bit as each goalie had to make eight saves.

The Elks missed one chance when Jordan McLaughlin, on a rebound, had part of the net open but hit the post. The puck came straight back but the Lightning defenders beat the Elks to it.

Curtis,  Elks all-time scoring leader with 150 goals (36 this year) and 125 assists for 275 points, was blanked in her final game. She had two in the earlier win over GRG but they did a good job keeping her to the outside in the rematch. Incidentally, Jessica Pullar, class of 2004, whose points record Curtis broke, hung on to the Elk goals record of 156, with Curtis career ending Thursday.

The Elks’ ledger this year is a 20-4-3  record, a share of the NWSC title with Anoka, and a section runner-up trophy, but no trip to the Xcel Center.

“It’s definitely hurts to not be going back, but we had a great season, that’s all we can ask,” said Curtis.

Also playing their final game were Herrmann, Josie Brown, Abby Kratzke, Jordyn Denne, Cassey Petrich, Kayla Mills, and Madison Ellis.