By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
As a dejected group of Mankato East/Loyola girls hockey players left the ice, it was apparent the old adage is true: The first cut is the deepest.
The Cougars suffered their first loss of the 2012-13 season on Saturday, dropping a 5-2 decision to Willmar at All Seasons Arena. Willmar’s scoring included two third-period power-play goals in addition to an empty-netter with 1:13 to play.
“You have to play three periods of hockey and we didn’t do that today,” East/Loyola head coach Nate Fuller said. “We didn’t play well in the third. We were undisciplined and, when we went to the box, they took advantage.”
Willmar had at least two players who stood out. Senior goalie Madison Sandberg, who has one of the best save percentages in the state, stopped 35 of 37 shots. And sophomore forward Shelby Schneider scored a hat trick, her first of the season.
“We knew before the season started that (Sandberg) was going to play well for us,” Willmar head coach JaColby Anderson said. “She could have started for us last year but we had another good senior goalie in front of her. She’s just been solid all year.”
Schneider scored the first two goals of the game, finding the net at 5:40 and 14:53 of the first period. Willmar’s 2-0 lead stood up until 5:25 of the second when East/Loyola’s Maddie McCargar converted passes from Savannah Quandt and Kalli Steinberg into a score.
Teammate Amanda Broman tied it up at 1:29 of the third with assists from Kylie Paulson and Mariah Kragh but the rest of the period belonged to the Cardinals. Schneider followed with a power-play goal at the 3:02 mark, Lauren Sing added a 5-on-3 goal from down low between the circles at 5:57 and Miranda Roelofs finished it off with her empty-netter at 15:47.
“Getting the hat trick feels great but getting the win feels better,” Schneider said. “I think maybe we sent a message (to the rest of the teams in the section) today. They might look at us a little differently now.”
East/Loyola outshot the Cardinals 37-17. Sandberg got the win and Katie Paulson took the loss.
“They beat us at our own game in the third period,” Fuller said. “They dumped the puck in and forechecked the heck out of us. That’s exactly what we like to do when we’re playing well.”
The Cougars (10-1) are back in action Thursday at the Schwan’s Invitational in Blaine.