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Albert Lea breaks through, beats Austin to win Section 1A girls hockey championship

Albert Lea was within a goal of a trip to the girls hockey state tournament last year. Thursday, the Tigers eased those memories by capturing the Section 1A title and a trip to state.

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OWATONNA — Albert Lea was oh-so-close a year ago.

Painfully close.

Those stomach-churning memories of the 2021 Section One, Class A girls hockey championship game have now been replaced in the best possible way.

The top-seeded Tigers scored four goals in the second period Thursday night at Four Seasons Centre to turn a tie score into a three-goal lead and ultimately a 7-2 victory against rival Austin High.

The win gives the Tigers (14-10-1) the program’s first-ever section championship and first-ever trip to the Class A state tournament. They’ll open play at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday. Times and quarterfinal pairings will be determined this weekend once all of the section championship games are completed.

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The win for the Tigers also helps ease the memories of a one-goal loss on their home ice to Rochester Lourdes last season in the section title game. Lourdes’ Maggie Hanzel scored with 8 seconds to go in that game to give Lourdes a 3-2 win.

Thursday’s game was a different story for the Tigers. The score was tied 1-1 after one period — Austin’s Kate Holtz and Albert Lea’s Morgan Goskeson traded goals — then the Packers took a 2-1 lead just 58 seconds into the second period.

The Packers had their sights set on the program’s first trip to state since 2008, but the Tigers had their sights on a comeback.

Mika Cichosz scored a power-play goal 4:49 into the second to start a spree of four Albert Lea goals in a span of 7:07.

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Just 32 seconds after Cichosz tied it, Lucy Stay scored an unassisted goal to give the Tigers the lead for good. Esther Yoon added a power-play goal and Goskeson scored her second of the night to make it 5-2 after two.

Shelby Evans — who also had three assists in the game — and Cichosz added insurance goals in the third to seal the Tigers’ first state tournament appearance.

Austin closes the season 15-11-0 overall. Holtz also finishes the season with 37 goals and 63 points — both marks that are currently in the top 20 in the state. She had a goal and an assist Thursday, in her final high school game. She’ll play at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., beginning in the fall.

Albert Lea brings a four-game winning streak into the state tournament.

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ALBERT LEA 7, AUSTIN 2

Austin 1-1-0 — 2

Albert Lea 1-4-2 — 7

Austin: Kate Holtz 1 goal, 1 assist; Megan Schultz 1 goal; Isikiyah Hemann 1 assist.  Goalie: Kyia Radford-Garcia 18 saves (25 shots).

Albert Lea: Lucy Stay 1 goal; Esther Yoon 1 goal; Elizabeth Willett 1 assist; Keira Erickson 1 goal; Shelby Evans 1 goal, 3 assists; Morgan Goskeson 2 goals; Mika Cichosz 2 goals, 2 assists. Goalie: Rachel Doppelhammer 19 saves (21 shots).

Northfield upsets South in 1AA

Ayla Puppe scored her 39th goal of the season 3:28 into overtime to lift second-seeded Northfield to a mild upset over top-seeded Lakeville South in the Section 1AA title game.

Raiders goalie Maggie Malecha was the star of the show, making 48 saves to hold her team in the game as it was outshot 49-13.

Lakeville South entered the section final with a 25-2-0 record and it is ranked No. 4 in the most recent Class AA state poll, but the Raiders’ victory Thursday should only be considered a mild upset. Northfield handed South one of those two previous losses, a 4-2 game back on Nov. 18 in the season opener.

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Northfield never trailed on Thursday. Lucy Boland scored 1:32 into the game to give the Raiders a lead, until South tied it with 4:01 to play in the first.

That’s how the score remained until Puppe, a sophomore, scored an unassisted even strength goal to send the Raiders (19-5-3) to state.

They’ll play a quarterfinal game next Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.

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