On a team filled with seniors and varsity veterans, it was two underclassmen that shined Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Freshman Breya Sawyer quieted any doubters about her net play and sophomore Brynne Folden scored her first varsity goal to break a 1-1 tie and help the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors to a 3-1 season-opening victory over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd.
Tied 1-1 in the third, Folden found an open lane to the net. She received a pass from Taylor Larson, then looked and found an open spot past Lumberjacks goalie Araya Kiminski to break the stalemate at 10:04.
“That was a huge goal for us,” said Warrior head coach Jack Freeman. “That was a third liner coming up big in a big spot. She was playing with confidence the whole night and it was fun to see her get rewarded for it. She played a nice game.”
A little more than a minute later Emma Booth drained a crossing pass from Sophie Robinson for the game’s final goal.
“We stuck to our identity and it was side-to-side, low-to-high and we had a pass across the slot and we were able to capitalize on it,” Freeman said. “It was nice to see some of the concepts that we’ve been practicing pay off for us for a big goal.”
Sawyer kept her space clear by deflecting all five shots she faced in the final frame. She called the season opener an intense learning experience.
“Oh my gosh, I felt so sick at the beginning,” Sawyer said. “The first shot was nerve wracking, but I saved it. It calmed me a little bit. It was really important to get that first save, especially with your team always getting back.”
Gabbie Smith corralled a loose puck just before the blue line in the first period, a bit of stick handling magic provided distance from two CEC defenders and created a 1-on-1 with Kiminski. Smith struck high glove side for the game’s first goal and the first for BLF of the season.
“That was a great individual effort,” Freeman said. “She’s the type of kid that the energy she brings is such a huge impact on the game. That was a shift where she just took over and was flying around. She is just so fast and it’s contagious.”
Sawyer swallowed up a break away shot from CEC’s Kiana Bender in the middle of the first period and stopped two more shots to post a perfect opening frame.
CEC’s Taylor Nelson upended Sawyer’s shutout bid early in the second period on a shot that looked like it hit the post and deflected out, but trickled past the line to knot the score at 1-1.
“It was a mistake,” Sawyer said. “A silly mistake. It’s definitely something I worked on a lot before. It was something I should be able to save. I’ll get it next time.”
Sawyer redeemed herself on a Lumberjacks power play 10 minutes later as a scrum in front of the net ensued. Sawyer stonewalled the attack and BLF killed the power play. Both teams finished 0-2 on power-play attempts.
Kiminski was just as solid in the second as she knocked away 12 shots, including a close-range attempt by Shaylee Stroot on a 2-on-1 breakaway with Smith.
“First game of the year, home opener and you have a ninth grader in a big spot,” Freeman said of his freshman goalie. “There’s a lot of nerves and boy did she handle it well. We’re very pleased with her.
“There are things as a team we’re going to get back to work on, but the identity is there. I liked our depth at forward. I thought we had three lines that were competing. We played a lot of kids. We had six defenders and we got a good result to show for it. It’s something to build on.”
The Lumberjacks opened last season with a 3-2 victory over the Warriors. BLF then ratted off a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Sawyer is ready for a similar run.
“I just learned to stay calm and trust your teammates,” Sawyer said. “We have a very good team this year.”
For more photos of the game with Cloquet-Esko-Carlton go to https://bit.ly/33ILBxX.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 0 1 0 -- 1
Brainerd/Little Falls 1 0 2 -- 3
First period: BLF-Gabbie Smith 9:34
Second period: CEC-Taylor Nelson 2:27
Third period: BLF-Brynne Folden (Taylor Larson, Riah Stroot) 10:04; BLF-Emma Booth (Sophie Robinson) 11:11
Shots on goal: BLF 10-12-5 -- 27, CEC 3-8-5 -- 16
Power plays: BLF 0-2, CEC 0-2
Goalies: BLF-Breya Sawyer (15 saves); CEC-Araya Kiminski (24 saves)
Warriors 3, CEC 1
Key: Brynne Folden’s first varsity goal broke open a 1-1 tie
Overall: BLF 1-0, CEC 1-2
Next: Brainerd/Little Falls vs. Eden Prairie at Eden Prairie Community Center 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14