Northland College women’s hockey may have been born last year, but it officially arrived on the scene last Sunday.
The Jills earned the program’s first signature win with a 3-2 overtime defeat of then-No. 2 Adrian. The Bulldogs had not lost an NCHA game in 32 tries and came within a goal of the National Championship last season.
There may have been a lot of hockey people around the country who knew very little about the program at Northland before Sunday.
They know a lot more now.
Those same people probably have realized the Jills have an outstanding goaltender, too. The bulk of the credit for the win goes to Gabby Suhr, who stopped 64 shots. Among those saves were numerous grade-A chances, including a breakaway in the third period after Adrian had tied the score 2-2.
Credit is due to Allyson Reilly as well; she scored the game-winning goal on the first shift of the extra period. The entire bench deserves a nod for working to stay calm and supporting each other. And the architect of the team? Head Coach Kelly Rider.
“It’s humbling to see others start to see and recognize the work our players have put in, and for our players to be rewarded with wins like this,” Rider said after the game. “All of our players have put in a lot of time into developing a winning culture. It hasn’t resulted in many wins yet, but we’ve stressed it’s about the journey and the wins will come.”
It was the sixth win in the short history for the second-year program. Northland’s four wins last year all came against teams with zero wins at the time of competition. The Jills won their first-ever game over a team that had a victory (1) on opening weekend this year at Concordia-Moorhead.
Entering Sunday’s series finale, Northland tried to reset after getting beat 5-0 by the Bulldogs the night before. The opening period was where they tried to implement their game plan.
“(The first period) was our chance to get up on them,” said Reilly, a sophomore. “We thought if we can get up on them right away, we can take them off their game, maybe get them playing chippy hockey, get them to take some penalties and get pucks in the net.”
Getting Adrian rattled is no easy task. For their whole body of work, the Bulldogs really didn’t get distracted from the task at hand – the shots were 19-3, 25-4 and 22-6 in each period, respectively. But Northland capitalized on those couple little instances where the game plan just might have worked.
Then again, maybe it was just Suhr playing as well as a hockey fan will ever see.
Samantha Scott scored midway through the first period to make it 1-0, changing the tenor of the game for most of its minutes. Shift after shift, it was the lone goal on the scoreboard.
Then in the second period, another goal was scored. Not by Adrian, but by Northland. The “one” became a “two” and suddenly everything started getting serious. Amanda Abounader scored the goal on the power play, just like they drew it up in the game plan.
While the Northland score was changing, the more impressive number on the scoreboard – the more interesting, intriguing, attention-grabbing number – was the zero under the visitor title. Suhr was putting on a show. Forty-four saves on 44 shots through two periods. How long could she keep this blockbuster going?
“My warmup was really good,” Suhr said. “I had that feeling where you feel on and ready for anything … I knew, no matter what, I just had to keep that going. Every period, I just kept my mind set, kept myself in the game. I was talking to everybody, staying excited. I was focused the whole time. It turned out exactly as I planned it.
There were some big scrambles. For some reason, they just made me more confident because, with all those people, and I was still the one to end up with the puck in my possession, it just gave me confidence. It didn’t matter how many girls there were; it was still my puck.”
Suhr said she had no idea how many saves she was making. When someone asked her how many saves she had between the second and third periods, she politely responded, “I don’t want to know.”
Just under seven minutes into the third period, Suhr would finally surrender a goal. Two-zero became two-one and, like when Scott put Northland up in the first period, the game changed again. Brianna Buchanan cracked the code and Adrian was in business.
Exactly six minutes later, on the power play, Jacqueline White tied the game. The Bulldogs were trending; that zero that seemed frozen on the scoreboard was long gone. The game would come down to the final 7:05 of regulation.
Captain Kylie Fahmer described the tone on the Northland bench: “We just tried sticking to our game. We tried not to let the goals get to us. We tried to keep pucks out to the sides, keep them away from Gabby.”
Reilly admitted she got a little shaky after the first goal. How could you not be?
“Once they scored the second goal, we all really tried to step it up, not back down,” she said. “We took a mentality to not let those two goals affect us. Stick to how we’ve been playing the whole game.”
Suhr went back to her perfect ways for the final 7:05, sending the game to overtime.
It ended quickly. Off the face-off, play moved into the Northland end. The puck bounced out into the slot and found its way onto Reilly’s stick. She had room to skate and she took advantage of it. Through the neutral zone, quick as she could, Reilly approached the Adrian blue line.
“I was just thinking shoot, shoot, shoot,” Reilly said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get around (the Adrian defensemen). I didn’t really see the net very well. I just kind of shot as hard as I could. When I saw the puck wrap behind the goalie, I was just like WOW.”
A celebration that won’t soon be forgotten commenced.
“I remember vividly seeing the puck hit the net,” described Fahmer. “I skated as fast as I could, straight to Ally, and jumped on her. Everyone piled on top of us.”
“I was in shock,” admitted Reilly. “I couldn’t believe we beat them …so many different emotions.”
Way back in the Northland end, Suhr might have been the happiest player on the ice.
“My first reaction was ‘Thank God!’” the freshman goalie said. “O-Ts are so stressful. I was already so tired from the game. My legs were ready to give out on me … I remember, we have to do this now, or it might turn bad really quick. I saw (Reilly) shoot. I don’t know what happened, but I saw their arms go up and I skated down as fast as I could to give them a hug.”
The happiest parents in the building might have been Suhr’s, who were at the game, camped out on the glass right near Suhr’s goal the entire game. It’s one of the most challenging situations in hockey, and it doesn’t even directly involve any players on the ice: being the mother of a goalie who’s playing in overtime.
“I walked up to them (after the game) and I was smiling,” said Suhr. “They said that was one heck of a game. I said, ‘I don’t even know what just happened!’”
Rider and the ‘Jills, obviously, hope the win leads to continued progress and confidence.
Fahmer agrees: “This definitely shows what we are capable of doing this year. It will definitely help us build more confidence.”
Said Reilly: “It shows other teams, maybe teams that are just starting out, that they can beat good teams. You shouldn’t under estimate any team. If a team shows up to play, they can win, no matter who they are playing against.”