Pioneers reach the pinnacle of girls hockey

The Pioneers celebrate a second period goal in the Minnesota State Girls Hockey Class AA Tournament quarterfinal game against Burnsville Feb. 20. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Hill-Murray junior goalie Leah Patrick watches the puck go high in quarterfinal state action against Burnsville. The Pioneers made their second consecutive trip to state. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Hill-Murray wins state tournament! 

After defeating Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the title game, the jubilant Hill-Murray players gathered around goalie Leah Patrick as they celebrated their first girls state hockey title.

Seeded second in the Minnesota Class AA Girls Hockey Tournament, the Pioneers downed the top-seeded Red Knights, 5-3, Saturday night, Feb. 22. Patrick made some key saves late in the game to help seal the win.

On their way to this year’s state crown, the Hill-Murray girls won the Section 4AA title with a 4-1 win over Stillwater.

Then in the state tournament, the Pioneers got off to a fast start Feb. 20 by defeating Section 3AA champion Burnsville, 4-1. They then stopped a strong Eden Prairie squad, 1-0, Feb. 21.

That win put them in the title game for the second consecutive year. Last year they were defeated by Minnetonka, 5-2, and watched the Skippers skate around the Xcel Energy Center with the championship trophy held high.

This year the Pioneers were the ones doing the celebrating.

Hill-Murray 4 - Burnsville 1

It took awhile for the Pioneers to find the puck in the Burnsville end (they went the first 7:19 before their first shot on goal) but once they did, they wasted no time lambasting the Burnsville net with flying pucks.

In the final 44 minutes and 40 seconds, the Pioneers fired missiles at the rate of nearly one a minute. The final shots on goal showed the Pioneers owning a 44-11 advantage.

“Our team has played good defense all year,” stated Hill-Murray head coach Bill Shafhauser. “Last year we came (to the state tournament) and gained experience.

“Once we got off the first-game jitters, we settled down and played our game. When Burnsville scored, we came right back and got a goal. That was big for us. We were able to regroup and play our game to the end,” Shafhauser said.

Blaze coach Tracy Cassano explained, “We knew they had good depth and speed. When we got the goal, we figured we would have to go on from there and take advantage of it, but they came back and scored.”

“Going in we knew it would be a battle, but we have faced adversity all year. We have come from behind and have fought hard. Today, it wasn’t to be.”

At 12:20 into the game the Pioneers opened the scoring on a power play. A crisp feed from Kenzie Prater went through the crease to the right doorstep where Jess Bonfe banged the puck in the net for a 1-0 leeway.

Two minutes later the Pioneers posted what would turn out to be the game-winner. This time Bonfe fired a pass to Rebecca Zarembinski, who scored at 14:28.

Early in the second period, the Pioneers charged into the Blaze end. A feed off the stick of Zarembinski found Prater. From there the sophomore winger buried the puck just 1:11 into the second period.

Burnsville fought hard and a good combination on an infrequent sortie paid off with a goal at 9:19 to give the Blaze hope.

But the cheers had hardly died when the Pioneers stormed back. Once again precise passing saw Jac Kaasa feather a feed to Brittney Anderson, who slammed it in at 9:41.

From then on the Pioneers defense held the Blaze at bay. The third period saw no goals by either team even though Hill-Murray outshot Burnsville 14-1. 

Hill-Murray 1 - Eden Prairie 0

The Pioneers scored just one goal on 29 shots but their stalwart defense made it all they would need.

It was midway through the contest that a pass from Jess Bonfe behind the Eden Prairie net moved across along the boards to Rebecca Zarembinski on the other side.

She quickly slid a feed to the right doorstep where Kenzie Prater was stationed. The sophomore sharpshooter flipped the puck inside the right pipe for a 1-0 Hill-Murray tally at 8:18 of the second period.

Following the contest, Eden Prairie coach Jaime Grossman and Hill-Murray mentor Bill Schafhauser praised the teams’ defenses.

“Even though the shots on goal were lopsided (29-8), the Pioneers didn’t have that many quality shots. When they did have chances, our goalie (Alexa Dobchuk) came up big and made the saves,” said Grossman.

“But they slowed us down and limited our chances. As a whole, they are a quality club. They took away our lanes and limited our chances. When we did get a shot, their goalie made the saves,” he said.

Asked about the Hill-Murray defense, Schafhauser said, “We definitely stress a unit of five, plus our goalie. It doesn’t happen with two. We know we need to function as a unit of six on defense.

“We stress back checking and it is critical that our forwards are involved.

“Credit their goalie. She played awesome. Both teams have quality goalies. Obviously, ours (Leah Patrick) played a superb game as well,” Schafhauser said.

The 1-0 win pushed Hill-Murray into the championship game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Three weeks earlier on Jan. 30, Hill-Murray (25-3-1) handed the Red Knights (27-2-1) a 3-2 setback.

Hill-Murray 5 - Benilde-St. Margaret’s 2

The game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s was unlike the Pioneers’ first two in the tournament.

Off the opening faceoff, they stormed into the attack zone and just 1:17 into the game, the Pioneers scored.

Feeds from the sticks of Brittney Anderson and Samantha Boyer found Jess Bonfe at the right corner of the Red Knights’ goal.

“I saw the opening and shot. It was good to get that early goal,” stated Bonfe after the game.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Dave Herbst talked about the first goal during the post-game interview.

“That goal 1:17 into the game kind of sucked the wind right out of us. They (Hill-Murray) are a good team. Then they got the second goal, and we just never got back into the contest.”

Herbst continued, “When we got that early third-period goal I thought, ‘Boy, here we go,’ but it wasn’t to be.

“We had a couple of chances but just couldn’t do it. But I’m proud of these kids and this team. We’ve had a pretty good year and have gone 27-3-1. I am extremely proud of our team.”

Eight minutes later, Hill-Murray went up 2-0 on a second goal by Bonfe. With assists off the sticks of Kenzie Prater and Rebecca Zarembinski, the junior sharpshooter shot the puck through the right circle.

She said, “I just got the puck and fired it, and it was nice enough to go in,” she said with a giggle.

The Pioneers were up 2-0 at 9:19.

Before the first 17 minutes were over the Red Knights converted at 11:05, and the Pioneers led 2-1.

The second period opened even faster for Hill-Murray than the first.

A concerted charge to the Benilde-St. Margaret’s goalmouth saw a shot, a save and from a scrum, Jac Kaasa banged a loose puck into the net at 29 seconds. On the 3-1 goal, Sarah Bobrowski picked up an assist.

The tenacious Hill-Murray defense kept fending off the Red Knights.

At 14:43, Mekenzie Steffen and Kate Smith combined to feed the puck to Lindsey Featherstone, who finished off the play with a blast inside the left pipe for what eventually turned out to be the game-winner.

The three-goal lead for Hill-Murray changed in a hurry in the third period. A Pioneer penalty at 13 seconds resulted in a Benilde-St. Margaret’s score just five seconds later at 18 seconds into the period.

The Pioneers skated off another penalty, and goalie Leah Patrick made a couple of super saves. First she smothered a breakaway and then made a fantastic save at the left post.

The final Hill-Murray tally came when Brittany Wheeler sent a feed to Rachel Herzog who relayed the puck to Bobrowski in the circle to the right. The senior captain fired a bullet through a screen for the 5-2 score at 14:08.

A late goal at 15:53 by the Red Knights put the final 5-3 score on the big board, but it proved to be too little too late and the Pioneers captured the Minnesota Class AA girls hockey title.

Coach Bill Schafhauser smiled when he was reminded that a state championship no longer is the exclusive right of the school’s boys hockey squad.

He reminded the assembled that the girls have a long ways to catch up to the “storied boys program at Hill-Murray.”

But then added, “It sure feels good. This game was much like when we played them (Benilde-St. Margaret’s) in January. We had the same approach.

“We knew we had to back check super hard and cut down and eliminate their space. It worked for us. We saved our best for last.” 

The question was posed to Schafhauser if at any time during the season he felt they were going to be able to win the title.

The amiable coach stated, “Ironically, it was that Benilde game in January. Heading back to the bench for the third period, I had goose bumps because I knew we were on our way. Then to have our best game in the championship game is a testament to the kids and to how hard they have prepared.”

In closing Schafhauser made a special point to praise senior captains Bobrowski and Brittney Anderson, along with all the seniors who will be graduating with the first girls state title for the Maplewood-based school.

Wally Wakefield can be reached at

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