By Nick Gerhardt
Northfield saw its hopes at a return trip to the Class 2A state tournament dashed Thursday in a 5-3 loss to Lakeville North in the Section 1AA title game at Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna.
The fourth-seeded and No. 17-ranked Raiders (20-8) appeared in the title game for the third time in the past four years but couldn’t overcome a breakout second period by the second-seeded and No. 15-ranked Panthers (21-8) who secured their first trip to the state tournament since 2014.
A good start for Northfield faded away beginning with a game-tying Lakeville North goal in the waning minutes of the first period and three second-period goals. Raiders junior center Ayla Puppe put Northfield up 1-0 with 1 minute, 53 seconds left in the first period with a shot from the right circle dot during a 5-on-3 power play. But 24 seconds later Panthers junior forward and Sacred Heart commit Addison Bowlby scored a shorthanded goal after collecting a turnover at the Northfield blue line to tie the game.
Lakeville North drew a penalty in the final seconds of the period and started the second period on the power play. Just 1:38 into the second period junior forward Anna Tomas found herself alone at the back post to put away a rebound and lift the Panthers to a 2-1 lead.
Panthers sophomore Shay Swanson knocked in a rebound at 6:41 of the second period to extend the lead to 3-1 after Lakeville North started to take control of the game and control the puck in the Raiders zone for swaths of time.
Panthers junior defender Ashley Wagenbach extended the lead to 4-1 with a slapshot from just outside the right faceoff circle as Northfield started reeling. The Raiders got outshot 9-3 in the second period.
Northfield rallied midway through the third period with junior winger Emerson Garlie scoring at 11:42 of the period with a shot from the slot with an assist from senior winger Tove Sorenson and junior defender Grace McCoshen to make it 4-2 and provide some spark for the final five minutes.
With 2:34 to play Puppe struck again to make it a 4-3 game during a 5-on-3 power play and an extra attacker on the ice for a 6-on-3 advantage with sophomore goalie Macy Mueller on the bench. Puppe walked in from inside the blue line to fire a snipe from the slot to make things interesting.
Lakeville North killed the remaining penalty and with eight seconds left, Bowlby got the puck free from the Panthers zone for an empty-net goal to make it 5-3.
Lakeville North eighth-grade goaltender Kaia Weiland stood tall to stop 24 of the 27 shots she faced to help preserve the win during a tumultuous final two minutes.
Mueller stopped 18 of the 22 shots she faced for Northfield.
The Raiders graduate five seniors from the team this year as they’ll try to advance to a third straight section title game next season.