Mankato East scored on her first two shots, and it looked like the first game of the crosstown women’s hockey season with Mankato West / Loyola / St. Clair could be an easy win for the Cougars.
Not so fast.
East scored twice in the first 1:17 of the game, but Mankato West / Loyola / St. Clair stayed close. Ultimately, the Cougars won 4-3 in a Big Nine Conference women’s hockey game Thursday at All Seasons Arena.
“It’s important that our team realize that every minute, every shift, we have to be ready,” East coach Amber Prange said. “It’s always an emotional game, but just like in the Big Nine, we have a goal and we have to show up every night.”
East scored at 19 seconds, when McKenzie Keller got an assist from Jessica Eykyn to make it 1-0. Less than a minute later, Ashley Fischer scored on a breakaway, with an assist from Kalea Homich, to make it 2-0.
But the Scarlets came back straight away to make it 2-1, with Trinity Jackson scoring from close range, with an assist from Marleigh Jordan.
“We had to leave (the 2-0 deficit) in the past and look to the future,” said Scarlets assistant coach Kent Hays, who was replacing because head coach Shaun Reddy was ill. “We talked about it all year. The girls could’ve been like ‘Oh, man, here we go.’ I can’t say enough about their efforts tonight.
The remainder of the opening period was less frantic as Keller scored on a rebound from Eykyn’s shot with 31.9 seconds left to make it 3-1.
“I think their goal set us back a bit,” Prange said. “We had to come back and get that one back. “
Eliana Rickbeil scored her first college goal, assisted by Caitlin Hvinden and Jordan, as the Scarlets reduced the deficit to 3-2 at 5:18 of the second period, a score that held until the middle of the third period. .
Fischer restored the two-goal lead to East, assisted again by Homich, at 10:30 of the final period, appearing to clinch the win, but the Scarlets had another answer. Jordan collected his third point with a goal at 11:45, assisted by Delaney Geisen.
“Our goalie stepped up and made the first save, and the girls did a good job limiting the second and third chances,” Hays said. “We’ve been working on this all season, and you haven’t seen a lot of second chances there.”
In the last five minutes, both teams had a good scoring chance, but the keepers stopped everything. Anna Rader of East finished with 23 saves, while Alayna Smith of the Scarlets made 28 saves.
“It seemed like there was always a stick in the way, or the defense made a play to mess up our chemistry,” Prange said. “I think some of our girls were just trying to do too much.”
East (11-4) will play an outdoor game on Saturday against Detroit Lakes in St. Paul, while the Scarlets (3-9-1) will play Winona on Saturday.
The teams will play again on Wednesday January 19 as part of Minnesota Hockey Day at Blakeslee Stadium.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.