JOSH DUNGAN Bismarck Tribune
Women’s hockey matches between Bismarck and Mandan have been must-attend events for several seasons.
The second iteration of the rivalry of the 2021-22 season took to the ice Friday night and required a shootout for a winner to be declared, as the Bismarck Blizzard outlasted the Mandan Braves 2-2 (1-0).
“It was really fun for the spectators, the fans had a good show,” Bismarck head coach Tim Meyer said. “A bit disappointed with our ability to finish it (in regulation time) but you have to take your hat off to Mandan, they came out hard and capitalized to tie it up.”
Bismarck was generally in control and probably had the advantage in scoring chances and shots in the first two periods, but the score was still tied.
“It was a very even and very close game in the first two periods,” Meyer said. “It was really on the edge. It didn’t feel like we always matched their intensity, and if you leave a team like Mandan with the passion and skill they play with, you will have yourself. -even problems later in the game.”
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But there was an indication that the game might be turning in Mandan’s favor, as the Braves killed a penalty in the final five minutes of play and then fired a penalty on Bismarck to give themselves an extra skater advantage.
“Penalties, by definition, can hurt you or help you,” Mandan head coach Ben Hertz said. “It helped calm our nerves a bit (after the first penalty). Bismarck comes to you with everything he has no matter what happens.
“We didn’t have the start or the pace we wanted, we want to play more on the o-zone side, but that penalty calmed us down and made us click and gave us some confidence.”
The final 25 seconds of the penalty bled on the clock to start the third period, and then things got really interesting. The Blizzard was called for their second penalty, and this time Mandan converted.
A failed clearance from Bismarck fell past Blizzard goalie Kambree Grabar, and after several shots, Mikayla Fleck finally managed to hit the icebreaker.
“We went flat in the third,” Meyer said. “As the minutes ticked by you could feel something was about to happen. I’m proud of our girls that when Mandan got first we didn’t give up.”
As if Bismarck wanted to make things even more difficult for themselves, they were called for his third penalty of the last 10 minutes of ice time and put the Braves on their third power play of the game.
This time Bismarck killed the penalty, but Mandan still dominated both play and attacking zone time. Time is running out on Bismarck to find the equaliser.
That’s when Brenna Curl joined the party.
“We had good chances throughout the game,” Curl said. “Their goaltender had a great night, but we knew if we kept giving rebounds, we’d end up getting one.”
Curl, a second-year Blizzard forward who leads the team in goals and points, was the recipient of Bismarck’s first puck of the night after the team struggled to find a way to resolve the Mandan’s pesky defense.
A loose puck that had slipped past Mandan captain and goaltender Jayli Wandler after teammates Averie Hanson and Avery Matt had their chances of beating Wandler found its way to Curl, and she flipped the puck up and over. over the senior’s shoulder to even the score.
“We were just throwing pucks at the net,” Curl said. “After this one came in, he broke the ice, we got some momentum and we were able to get a second one.”
Bismarck was not yet finished. After taking a penalty for tripping on a breakaway that could have resulted in a penalty shot, the Blizzard used 1:58 more minutes of skater action before Matt took advantage of a loose puck past Wandler and escaped a somehow to the goalkeeper’s pads and teammates to give Bismarck the lead.
A deficit had suddenly swung into the lead, and now Bismarck had to try to protect it. It was made more difficult when they were assessed an interference penalty with 1:47 to play.
That led to an extended zone time for the Braves, and Meyer retired his goaltender with 1:20 left on the clock. The Braves had failed to score in a nearly identical scenario the first time the two teams met, although Bismarck kept all of their skaters on the ice in the 6-on-5 play in that opener.
Mandan rewarded his coach for the move this time. A bad Blizzard turnover put the puck on Fleck’s stick, and she centered on Madison Hertz. Hertz’s shot eluded Grabar, and with 46 seconds left the game was tied.
“Unfortunately penalties have been a problem for us throughout the season,” Meyer said. “You want to try to play on the verge of being aggressive and playing hard while being smart enough not to end up in the penalty area.
“We have to find a way to end this game and not end up in a shootout.”
The ensuing eight-minute extra-time affair was full of thrilling opportunities. Bismarck again controlled the majority of the game, although the Braves had a few near misses.
“It was our third overtime, so we’re not familiar with that,” Meyer said. “I think we did a good job getting a lot of chances, but it was their goaltending and their defense that we needed the shootout to get the extra point.
Finally, all that was left to decide the match was a shootout.
The Blizzard started with Ava Krikorian, followed her with Curl, and ended with Bauer Ackerman.
“We try to practice shootings at least once a week,” Meyer said. “We take it seriously and look at the kids and who is the most successful, so we went with the kids who we thought would give us the best chance with our top three.”
Mandan responded with a three-player roster consisting of Isabella Holle, Kenlee Edland and Maci Berg.
“We let (Wandler) choose the formation,” Hertz said. “She sees them in training, and we had a list, but when we had the break she wrote down her numbers and that’s what we rode with.”
A miss from Krikorian was followed by an agonizing shot for the Mandan faithful in attendance, as Holle’s slap shot chance between the circles sounded on the pipe.
“If this one comes in, maybe the momentum is going the other way,” Hertz said. “But that’s how the game went. Momentum here, momentum there. Bouncing here, bouncing there.”
Curl scored on her chance on a shot that somehow went through Wandler’s pads, and the three skaters following her were all stopped by the respective goaltenders facing them, giving Bismarck the win and the extra point.
“(Wandler) is a really good goaltender, so I knew I had to weigh my options while I was skating,” Curl said. “I saw an open space on the ice, so I decided to tear it up there, and it turned out in my favor.”
Despite the loss, Hertz is still happy with how his side played against a tough opponent like Bismarck.
“We have a lot of positives to take away tonight,” he said. “We were right with them in the first game in Bismarck, and that game we went up and then down and fought back and the girls really showed their passion tonight.
“We’re going to keep building tonight, and we don’t need to give up or fold to anybody.”