by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River-Zimmerman will play in its seventh straight section championship game after pummeling Grand Rapids-Greenway 5-0 at home Saturday evening.
The Elks (14-8-5), who scored on four of their first 10 shots against GRG, will take on Andover (15-9-3) for the Section 7AA crown on Thursday, probably at Fogarty Arena in Blaine.
“We have a loss and a tie against Andover, and we need a win to finish strong,” said Abbie Canton, who delivered the first two goals against GRG.
“We are two pretty even teams,” said Elk coach Joe Heasley, “and it’s going to come down to defense and goaltending like it usually does. We’re hoping we can get a couple past their goalie.”
Andover, which ousted defending champion Forest Lake 5-1 in the other semifinal, is looking for its first trip to state in hockey. The Elks are pursuing their sixth trip.
The Elks closed the regular season with a 0-0 tie against Andover and lost to the Huskies 5-2 in December.
This was the third straight shutout for Michaela Gould and the Elks. In playoffs they’ve blanked St. Francis/North Branch 3-0 and now GRG. The Elks have eight shutouts in all.
The Elks are 3-3 in section title games the last six years. Their last win was 2011 against GRG. They lost in four overtimes to GRG in 2012 and to Forest Lake 3-2 last year.
“We are very excited,” said Emily Heid, senior co-captain, who had a goal against GRG. “I didn’t get to play last year, because I tore my ACL.”
Canton, junior from Zimmerman who leads the Elks with 16 goals, got them started with a soft goal that got past Shanon Hart at 3:18.
“I wanted to make pass to Emily (Heid), but it hit the defender’s stick and went through the five hole (between the goalie’s skates). So that was kind of a lucky shot.”
Nothing lucky about the next one, though, as Canton cranked up on a rebound and blasted it into the back of the net after a strong shot by Breanna Simon was blocked, at 5:11.
“I’ve been trying to do that all year, to get rebounds, and I got that one and buried it.”
The line of Heid, Simon and Canton got the first three goals, with Heid scoring on a rebound at 12:38. The fourth goal was a slap shot by McKenna Wesloh from the circle on a power play.
“It was good start for us,” said Heid. “We said in locker room that we need to come out strong and play hard, because they will be pumped up.”
Simon had three assists on the first four goals, and got a power play goal herself at 8:56 of the final period to make it 5-0. Canton and Kaylee Forster had two assists each.
“We wanted to get pucks and bodies to the net and get some rebounds tonight,” said Heasley, “and we did a good job of that. We got off to a good start and that took some of the weight off the players.”
The Elks had a 32-17 edge in shots, with Gould stopping a one-on-one breakaway in the second period but otherwise under modest pressure.
The GRG Lightning finished 15-10-2 including a 4-0 loss to the Elks at home Jan. 10.
Forster, Heid and Mandy Sailor, senior co-captains, played their final home game.
“That’s a little upsetting,” admitted Heid. “But we’ll still be practicing here, so it’s fine.”
The seniors and their young teammates hope practices last a couple more weeks.