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Fusion beat Blizzard in semifinal, fall in section final

St. Croix Valley Fusion senior Heather Shew (16) watches her shot sail past Burnett County Blizzard goalie Hope Tucker for the Fusion's third goal of the game in their 3-1 victory over the Blizzard in a WIAA sectional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Wildcat Centre. <i>Bob Burrows photos</i>1 / 2
St. Croix Valley Fusion senior Micha Bennett beats a Burnett County Blizzard player along the boards in the Fusion's 3-1 sectional semifinal victory Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Wildcat Centre.2 / 2

The St. Croix Valley Fusion girls' hockey team advanced to the sectional final with a 3-1 victory over the Burnett County Blizzard last Tuesday, but couldn't get past the top-seed Hayward Hurricanes Saturday and ended their season with a 3-1 loss.

The Fusion have made it to the sectional final game every year of their existence, won three consecutive state championships from 2009-11, and won the Big Rivers Conference title every year but one.

"Yes, it is disappointing to lose the game, but what a great year we had and what a great career for our five graduating seniors," head coach Matt Cranston said. "They all were able to experience two state championships and three conference championships and play on a very special team."

Seniors Kalli Armagost, Sally Cranston, Micha Bennett, Heater Shew and Miranda VanDell played their final game for the Fusion Saturday.

"We will miss these girls so much," Cranston said. "They are a huge part of this team's leadership and success, on and off the ice, and all five are terrific young ladies."

After a scoreless first period Saturday, the Hurricanes scored one goal in the second and two more in the third to take a 3-0 lead. St. Croix Valley got on the board with just over six minutes remaining when Sally Cranston scored a power-play goal with assists from Hanna Zevenbergen and Shew.

With just over two minutes remaining the Fusion used their time out and pulled goalie Armagost to add the extra player. They spent the next two minutes putting heavy pressure on the Hurricanes but couldn't score.

Last Tuesday night the Fusion defeated the Blizzard by an identical 3-1 score.

"It was obviously a huge win for us," Cranston said. "They had some very skilled offensive players that we had to shut down if we would expect to win, and that is what we did. We played great and Kalli Armagost was brilliant in the net."

Sally Cranston got the Fusion on the board first in the final minute of the first period. Maddie Rowe grabbed a loose puck in front of the Fusion net and rushed it down the boards, luring four Blizzard players to her. Just as she crossed the blue line she slid a perfect backhand pass to Cranston, who the fired the puck past the Blizzard goalie.

Freshman Emma VanDell made it 2-0 just over a minute into the second period when she buried a shot from the middle of the slot. Assisting was sister Miranda VanDell and Andrea Eliason.

The Blizzard were able to sneak a redirected shot from the point past Armagost at the 9:11 mark to make it a 2-1 game after two.

The Fusion sealed the win with a perfectly executed power play goal at the 7:01 mark of the third.

Cranston won the face off and got the puck to Zevenbergen, who dished it out to Shew on the point. Shew slid it over to Rowe on the other point, who then passed it down on the side boards to Cranston. Cranston then fired it out to Shew, who was crashing the net from the point, for the goal.

"Once we had the two goal lead we were able to change to a more conservative fore-check, get the puck deep and basically kill off the last ten minutes," Cranston said.

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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