by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When the Elk River girls hockey team took a 9-1 drubbing Tuesday in Blaine, it could have been a confidence-buster for the very young Elk lineup.
Instead, the Elks have bounced back with two straight wins. They had a rout of their own with a 9-0 win over last-place North Metro on Friday evening, then scraped their way past section rival Grand Rapids-Greenway 3-2 on Saturday evening, both at home.
“It was just one of those games that got away from us,” said coach Joe Heasley about the embarrassing loss at Blaine. “We told them to forget about it, that games like that will happen.”
Said Chesley Petrich, four-year veteran and the only senior starter: “He told us to just push through, and come back to practice the next day and play better. And we did. We put it behind us.”
Freshman forward Jenna Gerber scored the game-winner on a rebound with eight minutes left as the Elks (7-10-3) shook off the GRG (6-11-1) at Elk River Arena.
Abby Canton and Kaylee Forster also scored goals, McKenna Wesloh made two assists, and goalie Jessica Edwards stopped 23 of 25 shots.
After a five-year stretch with three state tourney trips and two times stopped in the section finals, the Elks started over this year with only two experienced players, Petrich and junior Kaylee Forster.
Of the 16 players with the most ice time, there’s only two seniors and two juniors. Carrying the load otherwise are five sophomores, six freshmen and an eighth-grader.
“At times we can see improvement, and at times we play a game like we had at Blaine,” said Heasley. “These young kids are starting to understand things a little better, and starting to put the puck in the net a little more. They all have the ability and talent to play.”
The line of sophomore Canton (12 goals), freshman Breanna Simon (10 goals) and Gerber (five) has been especially productive.
Heasley said the young squad depends on co-captains Petrich and Forster, and senior goalie Kim Scott, for leadership. Scott has been relegated to No. 2 goalie behind Jessica Edwards and is very supportive of the sophomore. Said Heasley: “Kim done a real good job helping Jess. After the Blaine game, she helped Jess recover emotionally, just being there for her.”
Canton had the lone goal of the first period, with just nine seconds left, assisted by Simon and Wesloh. Hannah Schmoll pulled GRG into a 1-1 tie with a goal at 4:08 of the second. Forster regained a 2-1 lead on a power play at 9:51, Wesloh assisting again.
Chantel Holum scored for GRG 4:06 into the third period, but Gerber put the Elks back ahead to stay at 8:57, pouncing on the puck as it lie still a couple yards in front of the goalie who had just blocked a shot. Simon and Forster got assists.
The Elks had two penalties late in the game and skated 3-on-5 for almost a minute but held on.
The Elks play three games against Iron Range section rivals. They tied Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 4-4 in December and will host Duluth next Friday. First, the Elks will play at Champlin Park on Tuesday.
One of GRG’s best players is sophomore forward Jordan McLaughlin, who assisted on both their goals. McLaughlin is, of course, very familiar to the Elks. She scored 12 goals for the Elks last winter as a freshman. The family moved to Grand Rapids when her mom remarried. Jordan’s dad, well-known as a hockey booster, passed away two years ago.