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Losing two games shouldn't be the lasting recollection the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors have of the Class 2A state tournament. Instead the Warriors shouldn't forget they won a second-straight Central Lakes Conference championship, the first Section 8-2A title in program history and became the first Brainerd High School hockey team to play in a state tournament.
ST. PAUL—With 12 players returning from their 2017 state championship team, and earning the top seed in this year's Class 2A tournament, the Edina Hornets were favorites against the unseeded Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors in Thursday's quarterfinals. That experience was a factor as the Hornets outshot BLF 32-10 and scored on two of three power plays on their way to a 4-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. Emily Oden and Tella Jungels tallied for the Hornets in the first and CC Bowlby and Olivia Swaim buried pucks in the second, while goalie Megan Smith was perfect in net. "I think when you have quite a few players coming back to the state tournament from last year it helps," Edina head coach Sami Reber said. "There are not as many nerves among the entire team, but you never know what you're going to get at the state tournament. The first game there are still nerves even though you hope there won't be. You're still getting used to the rink and everything.
If the Quality Results Formula had been used to seed teams in the Class 2A state tournament, the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors would have been sixth and would have opened against No. 3 Hill-Murray. The Minnesota State High School League, however, seeds teams instead of using QRF. Participating state tournament coaches seed teams 1-5. The remaining teams' positions are determined by a blind draw. As a result, the unseeded Warriors will open at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at the Xcel Energy Center against top-seeded and defending state champion Edina. Not the most favorable draw for the Warriors, but you have to beat the best to be the best.
Ellie Selisker's grandfather, Bill, was a 3-sport standout at Brainerd High School and went on to a successful career as a boys basketball coach at Sauk Centre and Crosby-Ironton high schools, a tenure that landed him in four halls of fame. Greg Selisker, Ellie's dad, was a 1,000-point scorer at C-I. Uncles Tim and Mark Selisker also were standouts for the Rangers. But basketball skipped a Selisker generation. Ellie and her siblings, Abby, Sam, Molly and Steven, have matriculated to sports like gymnastics, track and field, cross country and hockey.
David Wetterling would have been proud. Wetterling, who died Sunday at Rochester Methodist Hospital, would also have been beaming as his grandson, Matt Fischer, registered a natural hat trick to spur the No. 3-seeded Brainerd Warriors past the No. 6 Bemidji Lumberjacks 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the Section 8-2A tournament Tuesday at Essentia Health Sports Center. "Watching me play hockey was one of his favorite things to do," Fischer said. "I was blessed with, I think, the best grandpa you can ever have. He and I were very close. I'm extremely thankful for all the time I got to spend with him, all the memories.
Among other things, Pierz is known for its stellar athletic teams, grilled hamburgers at Pioneer football games, Thelen Meat Market and hardworking farm families. In 14 trips to the state tournament, the Pioneers' football team won three championships. The wrestling team made 14 state trips, winning two titles and finishing second in 2017. The baseball team was Class 2A state runner-up in 2017. You can now add hockey as another source of recognition for Pierz. Junior forward Ella Kalusche became one of the top eight scorers for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors girls hockey team with eight goals among her 17 points this season.
CROOKSTON— After years of being so close in the boys and girls programs, Brainerd High School is finally sending a varsity hockey team to the state tournament. Ella Kalusche made sure of that 1:32 into the third overtime. She slapped a rebound past Roseau goalie Kiana Flaig to send the Brainerd/Little Falls girls to the Class 2A state tournament with a 2-1 victory over the Roseau Rams at the Crookston Sports Center Friday. BLF will carry a seven-game win streak to its first state appearance Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Warriors were scheduled to learn their opponent Saturday, Feb. 17. Last year, these same teams played nearly 100 minutes and four overtimes in the section final at Bemidji, with Roseau pulling out a 3-2 win. This season, the teams played 27 minutes beyond regulation with second-seeded BLF emerging. Roseau was seeking its sixth section title in 11 years.
Brainerd Warriors head coach Cindy Clough says "it's the most wonderful time of the year" for her squad, which will compete in the Class 3A state tournament Friday and Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The Warriors qualified for state after finishing second in kick and jazz in the Section 4-3A meet at Forest Lake Feb. 3. Brainerd will perform 10th out of 12 schools in jazz, seventh out of 12 in kick.
With the seeds reversed, maybe the outcome will as well. That's what the Brainerd Warriors are hoping as they prepare to take on the Roseau Rams for the Section 8-2A championship at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at Crookston. In the 2017 section championship game at Bemidji, the second-seeded Rams bumped off top-seeded BLF 3-2 in four thrilling overtimes. Roseau's Ella Helgeson scored with 1:20 remaining in the fourth overtime to give the Rams the victory.
One of Google's definitions of a sniper is a hockey player known for their goal-scoring ability. Cheyenne Abear has been one of the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors' snipers this winter. Through 27 games she leads the team with 20 goals and has added 13 assists for 33 points. Abear simply has a nose for the net. BLF head coach Jim Ernster said Abear is a skilled shooter, one who spends considerable time working on her game and it's paying dividends. But he said Abear's not only a scorer.