The Mankato East/Loyola girls hockey team was flying, making several end-to-end, odd-numbered rushes, firing point-blank shots at the Fairmont goaltender.
But despite the dominance in shots and possession time, the second-seeded Cougars were tied at 1 with Fairmont after one period.
“Typically, we don’t score two, three goals in the first period,” East/Loyola coach Amber Prange said. “But we had 24 shots on goal. We just had to modify how we were shooting. We had to keep attacking and not panic.”
That’s what happened. McKenzie Keller scored four goals as the Cougars defeated Fairmont 7-1 in the quarterfinals of the Section 3A tournament Tuesday at All Seasons Arena. The game was to have been played Monday but was delayed one day because of the snowstorm.
“We hadn’t played since last Tuesday so we just needed to get our legs under us,” Prange said. “We needed to get back in that competitive mindset against another team. We just have to keep getting better each game.”
Despite the East/Loyola attack, the game was scoreless midway through the first period. Finally, East/Loyola struck on an 2-on-1, with Evey Johnson sliding the puck across the crease to Kailey Newton for the tap-in goal at 7:28.
However, Fairmont tied the game by the end of the first period.
“There’s some nerves in the section, but we have had some slow starts this season,” Kaylee Eykyn said. “We needed to get a feel for the other team, but then we got things amped up.”
In the first minute of the second period, Keller picked up the puck in the Cougars’ zone and started racing down the left side. As she got near the circle, she tried to pass across the goal, but the puck hit a defensive player and deflected in for the unassisted, go-ahead goal.
At 5:17, Kaylee Eykyn came in alone on the goaltender for the easy goal, assisted by Christine Kim. A couple minutes later, Keller scored again on a nifty pass from Jess Eykyn for a 4-1 lead. Hannah Rigdon also got an assist.
Keller scored an unassisted goal in the first 55 seconds of the final period, giving her a hat trick in consecutive games, the first two of the sophomore’s career.
With two minutes to play, Kaylee Eykyn made another rink-length rush, and her rebound went right to Jess Eykyn for the goal. Twenty seconds later, Keller got her fourth to make it 7-1.
“She is so tenacious and aggressive,” Prange said. “She has such great chemistry with her linemates. She benefits from them making great passes, and she’s always looking for her teammates.”
East had a 58-13 advantage in shots on goal. Hailey Baker made 12 saves for the win.
The Cougars (11-4-1) will host Marshall on Wednesday at All Seasons Arena. Marshall defeated Mankato West 4-3 on Tuesday.
“Every game in the playoffs, it feels good to get a win,” Kaylee Eykyn said. “You sit there and watch the clock, and you don’t celebrate until you hear the final horn.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.