ST. PAUL — Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey player Hannah Graves saw an opportunity present itself Thursday in the Class A state semifinals, and she certainly wasn’t about to check the clock at Xcel Energy Center.
Graves didn’t need it. Her heart was already racing wildly, her mental clock ticking rapidly, her body keeping time with every movement to the puck.
Graves, a freshman forward, scored two goals — including one with 0.6 remaining in the first period — as the Mirage overcame an early 1-0 deficit to defeat Warroad 3-1 and advance to their first state title game in six tournament appearances.
“I knew that the time was running down, so I just had to pound it,” Graves said of her first goal, where she knocked in a rebound from teammate Nya Sieger. “There was literally no time to waste.”
There was no question the goal went in. That much was obvious. It was all about time, for the Mirage, sweet, precious time. The officials reviewed the play and the goal stood, as Graves predicted it would, her place in Mirage history cemented.
“Yeah, that’s the biggest goal of my life, it really was,” she said. “It was the game-changer. It was the spark that let the fire go.”
After Graves’ goal knotted it 1-1 after one, the Mirage rode the tidal wave of momentum into the second period. Graves scored at 3:39 of the period with a 5-hole shot and senior Alyssa Watkins, after outmuscling the defense along the boards, took the puck in close and went top-shelf to bury a power-play goal — her sixth goal of the tournament — less than three minutes later.
That was more than enough cushion for junior goalie Abby Pajari, who had 31 saves for the third-seeded Mirage (20-0), who play top-seeded Gentry Academy (19-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the title.
“Abby was there when we needed her — she made a ton of saves, and we’re proud of her,” Mirage coach Emma Stauber said. “Warroad had opportunities … but it just comes down to those second and third saves that Abby can make. We really trust in her.”
Abbey Hardwick had the lone goal at 5:24 in the first period for second-seeded Warroad (20-2), which came in averaging six goals per game, while junior Kendra Nordick had 30 saves.
“That goal at the end of the first was a tough momentum swing, for sure,” Warriors coach David Marvin said. “I thought both goalies were good. Proctor-Hermantown defended really well, and we didn’t generate enough good scoring chances. Congrats to the Mirage and good luck Saturday.”
The Mirage don’t need luck but will certainly need to play well to beat Gentry Academy, of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. With superior depth for a Class A team, Proctor-Hermantown has been strong in the second and third periods this season but will want to get off to a good start Saturday.
But if the Mirage need a spark, Graves hopes she can provide it.
Graves was a prolific scorer at the younger levels, with “a lot” of hat tricks as she says, but she had to earn her way onto varsity, seeing spot duty with the Mirage’s fourth line last season.
This season, in her first year as a varsity regular, she is fifth on the team with 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points.
“I was never really nervous down 1-0, but I I knew I had to do something to get our team moving, to get us in gear,” Graves said. “After that, we were all super excited. We were more motivated than ever to win that game.
“I’ve had a couple two-goal games on varsity but never a hat trick, so hopefully I can get one soon.”
Why not Saturday?
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Graves said, laughing.
First period — 1. W, Abbey Hardwick (Madison Lavergne), 5:24; 2. PH, Hannah Graves (Nya Sieger, McKenzie Gunderson), 16:59.
Second period — 2. PH, Graves (Michaela Phinney, Sieger), 3:39; 3. PH, Alyssa Watkins (Kaydee High), 6:18 (pp).
Third period — No scoring.
Saves — Abby Pajari, PH, 31; Kendra Nordick, W, 20.