Lourdes vs Faribault Girls Hockey

Lourdes’ Allison Smith takes a shot during the Section 1A championship game last year against Faribault. The Eagles and the Falcons will meet in the section final once again this season, on Thursday at Owatonna. (PB file photo by Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Rochester Lourdes has hung with or beaten many of the state’s best teams.

The Eagles played more than half of their regular season games against opponents who are currently ranked in the top 20 in the state.

But 16-10-0 Lourdes has yet to play to its utmost potential for a full 51 minutes. And that’s exciting to the Eagles’ coaching staff.

“It’s probably the most excited I’ve been to get to a game all year long, just because we as coaches know the potential of this team,” Lourdes girls hockey head coach Jeff True said. “We have a sense that we’ve still yet to show our best game.

“We’ve had moments all year long, we’ve had great periods against some of the top teams, but just haven’t put it together for all three periods.”

If Lourdes can put together a full 51 minutes Thursday night, it likes its chances of returning to the Class A state tournament for a second consecutive season.

The top-seeded and No. 8-ranked Eagles meet second-seeded and No. 14-ranked Faribault (19-5-0) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna in the Section 1A championship game.

Lourdes rolled past the Falcons, 7-1, in last year’s section final. Abby Wick scored 25 seconds into the game, and the Eagles never gave the Falcons hope of a comeback. Lourdes also beat the Falcons during the regular season this year, 4-0 on Jan. 10, a game in which Lourdes outshot Faribault 60-14.

True said the Eagles’ coaches and players are fully aware that being the higher-seeded and higher-ranked team means little once the teams take the ice on Thursday.

He pointed to last weekend’s Section 1AA semifinals, where fourth-seeded Northfield upset top-seeded Lakeville South thanks to a 54-save performance by goalie Maggie Malecha.

“We want to have a little confidence and swagger going into the game, knowing that if we take care of business we should come out on top,” True said, “but anything can happen. It’s playoff hockey. We just saw Lakeville South lose to Northfield and South outshot them (55-22). Northfield’s goalie stood on her head and had a great game. That’s what can happen in the playoffs.”

DEPTH AND EXPERIENCE

Lourdes has a couple of factors on its side.

The Eagles are not only capable of rolling three lines and six defensemen, they like to do so.

“We’ll have our third line out there going as much as possible,” True said. “Our philosophy is, once we get to the third period our top scorers will be fresh. If we only go every other line, we’re not going to be able to sustain the pressure we want to sustain.

“And if we take penalties and have some top girls out there killing penalties, then we’re really going to rely on that third line and our fifth and sixth defensemen. We have good depth this year. We can take any of the girls and put them out there in crucial situations.”

Lourdes also has experience in big-game situations.

This is the Eagles’ third consecutive trip to the section championship game. They also played three games at the state tournament last year, including a 3-2 quarterfinal loss against Proctor/Hermantown in which Lourdes twice rallied from a goal down to force overtime.

“We have that confidence that we can come back if we’re down,” True said. “We play so much better when we’re in front, so it’s important for us to get that first goal and an early lead.

“Playing in the state tournament last year, having that pressure, and now playing in our third section championship, it helps, but Faribault was there last year, too. They’ll be less nervous than they were last year. I expect it to be a tight, hard-fought game.”

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