LITCHFIELD — In an exciting, back-and-forth tussle between Willmar and Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, Mya Monson provided the deciding blow.
The senior forward scored the game-winning goal with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Cardinals a 4-2 girls hockey victory on Saturday afternoon from the Litchfield Civic Arena.
With the scoreboard tied at 2-2, the visitors had a 2-on-1 after catching the Dragons in the middle of a shift change. Junior forward Bailey Olson passed the puck to Monson, who put a wrist shot from the right circle past junior goaltender Avery Stilwell for the go-ahead score.
It was Monson’s second goal of the game.
“Bailey passed it to me across the ice and I was looking for another pass because I was a little far away from the net,” Monson said. “I saw an opening and I just shot it hoping that it would go maybe for a rebound and someone would get it, but it just went in. I was happy when it did.”
Olson, who finished with three assists, put the game away with an empty-netter with 43 seconds left. With the win, the Cardinals improved their record to 11-5-1.
“They battled hard all the way to the end,” Willmar head coach Eric Setrum said of his team’s effort. “(The Dragons) are a very good team, very physical. We have to match that a little better next time, hopefully. ... They did a good job of working together and playing hard.”
Losing the momentum late, the Dragons (10-5-1) still had multiple chances to equalize.
Down 3-2 with just under three minutes remaining, junior winger Lauren Block powered to the net and pull up a shot. Freshman center Grace Braaten was in perfect position for a rebound in front, but senior netminder Bryton Carlson made saves. Later with just over a minute, senior defender Sydney Braaten floated a wrister just wide of the net.
“They took advantage of their opportunities and we didn’t. Sometimes, that’s just the way hockey is,” Dragons head coach Brett Damerow said. “You end up with opportunities and sometimes you make the shot, sometimes you don’t. Today, we didn’t and they did.”
Improving to 8-4-0, Carlson was excellent in goal. The senior collected 29 saves en route to her third straight win in net.
“She was fantastic. She was good right from the start,” Setrum remarked. “Playing in their building, they had a lot of energy at the start and they came after us pretty good. She made some really big stops early ... She had a great game, she really stepped up to the plate today.”
The hosts outshot Willmar 15-11 in the first period. After Monson opened the scoring 6:10 into the game, LDC tied the game six minutes later on a rebound from junior winger Kourtney Meilke.
Following a scoreless second period, junior forward Ashley Larson put the Cards up 2-1 on a rebounding effort 4:47 into the third. The Dragons again equalized when Sydney Braaten rocketed a slap shot through traffic and past Carlson with just over nine minutes left.
Willmar outshot LDC 30-16 over the final 34 minutes. Despite relinquishing the game-winner, Stilwell was the reason why the Dragons remained in the game. On two occasions during the third, Stilwell stood tall during a pair of Olson rushes. During the second occasion, Stilwell made the initial stop before sprawling down on the ice to deny any attempts in close. The junior finished with 37 saves.
“Avery’s played well all year,” Damerow said. “She played well today, too, and she’s just very solid back there. Our girls know that and they want to play well for her. She’s just been a rock all year. She’s fun to watch as a coach and even as a hockey fan; it’s fun to watch a good player do her thing, and she did today.”
Both teams resume play on the road at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Dragons facing Holy Family and Willmar taking on Northern Lakes.
Willmar 4, Litchfield/DC 2
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FIRST PERIOD – (1) W: Mya Monson (Bailey Olson), 6:10 ... (2) L: Kourtney Meilke (Emma DeWolf), 12:45
SECOND PERIOD – No scoring
THIRD PERIOD – (3) W: Ashley Larson (Makenna Larson, Olson), 4:47 ... (4) L: Sydney Braaten (unassisted), 7:59 ... (5) W: Monson (Bailey Olson), 13:26 ... (6) W: Olson (unassisted), 16:17, Empty Net
GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS – Willmar: Bryton Carlson 29/31 … Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato: Avery Stilwell 37/40