WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington High girls hockey team has been plagued by lousy luck and sad starts this season, and when Minnesota River’s Bulldogs scored two early goals Tuesday night it looked like more of the same.
But that was far from the truth, though the Bulldogs ultimately won 7-5 in a Big South matchup at the Worthington ice arena.
“Absolutely,” said WHS coach Chad Nickel. “Hands down, this was a totally different game. This time we came back.”
Worthington lost 8-1 to the same Minnesota River team in St. Peter last Friday. The Bulldogs scored early and often in that one.
On Tuesday, the Trojans received two goals each from Riley Nickel and Ashton Fogelman. Worthington rallied from two-goal deficits to tie the game twice.
“Everybody’s really pulling together,” said Riley Nickel, one of the two coach’s daughters on the youthful Worthington team.
What truly made it a tight game was the play of junior goaltender Chantel Peralta.
“Our goalie did extremely well,” Riley said. “She made some really good saves.”
Peralta was forced into action last week when Worthington’s starting netminder, senior Alexis Lyons, was sidelined for Covid-19 concerns. On Tuesday, Peralta made several saves that drew cheers from the Worthington crowd. Included were several breakaway opportunities.
“Riley and Ashton played phenomenal, and I’ll give it to Chantel, for this being just her third game,” said coach Nickel. “She really showed us what she’s got.”
Minnesota River improved to 3-4 on the season as senior Nicole McCabe scored a hat trick and junior Anna Pavlo put two pucks in the net in the final six minutes.
The Bulldogs led 5-3 early in the third period before Fogelman’s two goals tied the score. The second, coming with 6:39 to play, was an unassisted beauty shortly after a faceoff that showcased Fogelman’s stickhandling ability.
Lauren Nelson also had an impressive goal for Worthington. The sophomore forward put the biscuit in the basket just 29 seconds into the second period to tie the score at 2. She controlled the puck behind the Bulldog net and stuffed one past the MR goaltender.
When Riley Nickel scored about five minutes later off a nice pass from Kessey Aljets, the Trojans had a 3-2 lead.
“Our girls came together and really moved the puck,” said coach Nickel. “Defensively we picked up the other team’s plays a lot better.”
Ultimately, Minnesota River’s pressure was too much for the Trojans. The Bulldogs out-shot the Trojans 20-18. Pavlo got what turned out to be the game-winner with 5:56 left to play. It came moments after Peralta turned away a breakaway chance.
With 57 seconds left, Pavlo scored again to put it out of reach.
“It was a very competitive game,” said Bulldog coach Tom Blaido. “They’ve had a string of bad luck with their (starting) goalie and they’ve got the young one in there. We peppered her there for a while and she made some awesome saves.
“They were good hard shots, and that was our thing. The game plan was to get the puck on net and give her some hard wristers and things a young goalie would struggle with. But she proved me wrong, because she was kicking it out and looking good.”
Pavlo also had three assists for the Bulldogs.
“Anytime you can go into somebody else’s rink and win a conference game, man I’ll take that everytime,” Blaido said.
For the Trojans, Fogelman, Aljets and Cadence Van Ede each had assists.
“Everybody was really talking to each other and we were getting our passes,” Riley Nickel said.
The Trojans may indeed have had some bad luck so far this season.
“Yeah,” said Riley Nickel. “But we’re working it out.”
The Trojans are at Luverne on Thursday night for another Big South clash.
Minnesota River 2 1 4 - 7
Worthington 1 2 2 - 5