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Fusion post pair of wins in season-opening tourney

St. Croix Valley Fusion goaltender Kalli Armagost gets ready to glove a high, hard shot from the point in the first period of the Fusion's Thanksgiving Invitational matchup with the Hayward/Spooner Hurricanes Saturday afternoon at Baldwin's United Center. The Hurricanes handed the Fusion their only loss of the tournament, 3-2, in overtime. <i>Bob Burrows photo</i>1 / 3
Fusion senior captain Sally Cranston steals the puck from a Hayward/Spooner player at the blue line in the first period of the Fusion's 3-2 overtime loss to the Hurricanes Saturday in Baldwin.2 / 3
Fusion forward Taylor Magill (3) manages to keep the puck in the Fusion zone during a scrum at the blue line in the first period of the team's 3-2 overtime loss to Hayward/Spooner Saturday afternoon in Baldwin.3 / 3

The St. Croix Valley Fusion girls' hockey team nearly made it a clean sweep at its annual Thanksgiving Invitational last week.

After defeating the Northern Wisconsin (Siren) Blizzard, 3-2, on a last-second goal by McKayla Custer Wednesday night Nov. 21, and topping the Cap City (Sun Prairie) Cougars, 4-1, Friday, Nov. 25, the Fusion took the defending sectional champion Hayward/Spooner Hurricanes to overtime Saturday before dropping a 3-2 decision.

"I was happy with the girls and their performance in this tournament," head coach Matt Cranston said. "We came from behind in two of the three games, both goalies were solid, we outplayed our opponents in the third period in all three games, and we had solid play from our new and freshman players."

The Fusion won a thriller in their season opener Wednesday night, with Custer scoring the game-winning goal with just 20 seconds remaining.

Senior captain Sally Cranston gave St. Croix Valley a 1-0 first period lead with a goal at the 7:40 mark, assisted by freshmen Maddie Rowe and Hanna Zevenbergen.

After a scoreless second period, the Blizzard tied things up with a goal five minutes into the third. St. Croix Valley regained the lead on an Allie DeMotts' goal with 5:49 remaining, assisted by Heather Shew, but the Blizzard scored again to tie the score with 2:14 left.

With under a minute remaining, freshman Andrea Eliason won a faceoff deep in her own zone and got the puck over to Rowe in front of the Fusion bench. Rowe dumped the puck all the way down the ice where it slid across the top of the crease and Custer was there to stuff it away for the game winner.

Fusion goaltender Kalli Armagost finished with 19 saves as the Fusion outshot the Blizzard, 30-21.

"This was a big win for us and will be very meaningful in our sectional seeding meetings in February," Cranston said. "This is the only time that we will play them all season."

After falling behind 1-0 Friday against Cap City, the Fusion scored a pair of second period goals and added two more in the third to post a 4-1 victory.

Rowe tied the score with an unassisted power play goal early in the second before DeMotts rifled in a high shot after taking a nice pass from Cranston to give St. Croix Valley the lead for good at the 5:13 mark with Zevenbergen also picking up an assist.

Tori Forseth made it a 3-1 game at the 6:08 mark of the third period, and after Cap City pulled its goalie with less than two minutes remaining, Custer took advantage of the open net to score a wrap-around goal to make the final 4-1.

Carlie Christensen picked up the win between the pipes, stopping 24 of the Cougars' 25 shots.

Saturday the Fusion faced third-ranked Hayward/Spooner in a rematch of last year's sectional final and trailed 2-0 late in the third period. Zevenbergen cut the deficit in half with a low wrister on a power play before Rowe tied the score with 1:28 remaining, assisted by Miranda VanDell, to force overtime.

Hayward/Spooner netted the game winner on the first shift of the extra session to hand the Fusion their first loss of the season. Armagost finished with 19 saves in the loss.

The Fusion have a week of practice before continuing their grueling early season schedule at Minnesota's No. 3 ranked team, Red Wing, Tuesday, Dec. 4. They return home to host the top-ranked team in Wisconsin, Onalaska, Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. at Wildcat Centre.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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