Girls hockey: Miller’s magic lifts Northfield past No. 4-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s

By Nick Gerhardt

Pregame interview with Northfield Head Coach Paige Haley
Pregame Benilde St. Margret’s Head Coach Kevin Gray

When the games get big, the spotlight seems to focus on Northfield sophomore defender Mia Miller. 

It did so again Tuesday in a showdown between the Class AA No. 6-ranked Raiders and Class AA No. 4-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s at Northfield Ice Arena. Miller scored three times, including the game-winner with eight seconds remaining to lift Northfield to a big 4-3 win over a metro power.

“We wanted to prove we could fit in with all of the metro teams and we are one of them,” said Miller, who scored the game-winner in last year’s section semifinal game against Lakeville South.

Miller’s game-winner came on the power play, the fourth of the game for the Raiders (17-0, 7-0 Big 9), who scored all of their goals on the power play to defeat the Red Knights (11-3-1, 1-0-1 Metro West) who previously only lost to Andover. 

Northfield has started to emerge as one of the top Class AA teams this season and the win over Benilde-St. Margaret’s helps cement its place as a potential state tournament contender.

“This could do a lot for us,” Raiders head coach Paige Haley said. “…This could help us out if we make a state tournament appearance, get that four-five game. Anything could happen. We just opened up doors for ourselves.”

Postgame interview with Raiders Head Coach Paige Haley

Northfield missed out on the state tournament last season following a section championship loss to Lakeville North. The last state tournament appearance in 2021-22 resulted in a 7-0 loss to second-seeded Edina and a 4-1 loss to Metro South in the consolation bracket. 

The Raiders defeated Benilde-St. Margaret’s last season 1-0 despite getting outshot 42-8 where Ayla Puppe scored a power-play goal with 2:39 to play in the first period. Goaltender Macy Mueller stopped all 42 shots. Both played a big role in the rematch.

Mueller stopped 42 of the 45 shots she faced Tuesday and Puppe scored a power-play goal in the second period at the 6:33 mark to put Northfield up 3-1. 

“She beat them last year,” Haley said of Mueller. “She’s unreal. She’s so reliable. She’s easy to get behind. She has a great attitude and we love playing for her.”

The matchup included gamesmanship between Haley and Red Knights co-head coach Kelly Pannek. The two played together at the University of Minnesota and remain best friends. 

“It was just fun to play one of your best friends and have that competitive rivalry,” Haley said. “I saw her a week ago. She said she couldn’t lose to her best friend twice and I said to the girls in the locker room between periods, ‘But you can.’”

The Raiders scored their first power-play goal with 31 seconds remaining in the first period after Miller knocked in a rebound goal to tie the game 1-1. 

Benilde-St. Margaret’s held an 8-0 shots on goal advantage through the first seven minutes of the game and scored its first goal at 9:42 of the first period when Addie Morris scored on a shot that hit the crossbar and went in.

Miller scored the go-ahead goal 1:13 into the second period after a bench minor penalty issued to the Red Knights coaching staff. 

In the second period, Northfield kept a winger near Benilde-St. Margaret’s blue line to help create space in their own defensive zone. It helped spring several scoring chances while allowing more space for Raiders centers and defenders.

“It normally makes the other team’s D leak out with them so that gives our D and centers more room to skate out,” Puppe said. “They’re a great team, they’re all fast and forecheck hard so having that D leak out gave us a lot more ground.”

Postgame interview with Ayla Puppe

After Puppe’s goal made it 3-1, the Red Knights responded with a power-play goal of their own when Morris, a Bemidji State recruit, scored again, this time on a shot from the slot to make it a 3-2 game. 

In the third period, Haley adopted a more defensive approach and brought in forward Isabelle Stephes to help play defense. It forced Benilde-St. Margaret’s to dump pucks into the Northfield zone until Kendall Hassler, a Minnesota State recruit, skated into the zone and picked a corner to tie the game 3-3 with 3:44 left to play.

The Raiders pushed back and went on the power play once more after a cross-checking penalty with 33 seconds to play. Twenty-five seconds later Emerson Garlie made a pass from behind the goal to Miller, who sent a shot through the five-hole of goaltender Demetra Walsma for the game-winner.

“We all had the adrenaline up and were ready to get one back,” Miller said. “Emerson was just behind the net and set me up perfectly. It came right to me. It was just a tap-in goal.”

Postgame interview with Mia Miller

Northfield faces Owatonna (7-9, 3-2 Big 9) Saturday at 7 p.m. in Owatonna.