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Pioneers Soar Past Eagles

Hill-Murray punches ticket to second straight championship game
with shutout of Eden Prairie

Hill-Murray’s Kenzie Prater scores the game’s lone goal in the second period of the Pioneers’ 1-0 state semifinal win over Eden Prairie on Friday, Feb. 21 at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

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SAINT PAUL—In  just their third trip to the Class AA girls’ state hockey tournament, the Hill-Murray Pioneers are making their second trip to the title game in as many years after prevailing in a tight 1-0 semifinal tussle with Eden Prairie on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.

The two-time state champion Eagles (2006 and 2008) made the Pioneers earn a hard fought one-goal win. Eden Prairie eighth-grade goaltender Alexa Dobchuck finished with 29 saves to give her team a chance despite a lopsided 29-8 shots advantage for the Pioneers.

“[Eden Prairie’s] goalie played awesome, obviously,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Schafhauser said. “We didn’t benefit from a few bounces where I thought we might, but they played hard and played smart and all it was going to take was one shot.”

Dobchuck credited her team with limiting Hill Murray’s quality chances.

“As many shots as I saved, they weren’t all completely quality shots because the defense and forwards were all picking up sticks and blocking shots,” she said.

Shafhauser said Hill-Murray emphasizes all five skaters functioning as a unit defensively and it showed as the Pioneers suffocated Eden Prairie’s attack from start to finish.

“We’re blessed with really good defensemen but it just doesn’t happen with just two defensemen and a goalie,” Schafhauser said. “It’s critical that the forwards participate in that as well.”

“They did a nice job of just clogging up that middle on us and taking away some of those lane,” Eden Prairie coach Jaime Grossman. “I thought early in we just weren’t reading the ice, we were a little bunched up and we were kind of on top of each other.”

“The Pioneers opened and closed the scoring at the 8:18 mark of the second period on Kenzi Prater’s second goal of the tournament. Jess Bonfe drove behind the Eden Prairie net and dropped the puck to a trailing Rebecca Zarembinski who fed Prater at the top of the crease for her 12th of the season.

Not surprisingly, Prater admitted she never dreamed her goal would gold up as the game winner.

“I think our team definitely had a lot of chances and I was surprised that we didn’t score on a couple but they were just unlucky bounces,” Prater said.

The Pioneers may have been up by two at that point had it not been for the quick left leg of Dobchuck and a little luck less than four minutes earlier when Hill-Murray’s second leading scorer Jac Kaasa’s shot caromed off Dobchuck’s outstretched left pad and the left goal post.

“Credit to their goalie,” Kaasa said. “She’s really good and she just got her pad over in time.”

After falling in last season’s title game 3-1 to Minnetonka, Schafhauser said the Pioneers benefited from that experience and they are right where they expected to be.

“I knew we had a good team, it’s not a surprise to us, we’re a little more seasoned,” Schafhauser said. “I don’t think you can hang on to a one-goal lead like we just did without some experience from last year; I think that was helpful to get us to tomorrow.”

Minnesota Hockey Magazine Executive Editor Brian Halverson is a member of the Minnesota Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. His work has been published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Miami Herald, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Hartford Courant, Dallas Morning News and ESPN.com.

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