Warrior girls' success motivational for outstate teams

Brainerd/Little Falls' appearance in the Class 2A state championship serves as a motivational boost for outstate girls' hockey programs. The Warriors, who were edged by top-seeded Edina 4-3 in double overtime in the state title game Saturday, Feb...

The Brainerd-Little Falls Warrior Girls Class 2A State Runner- up team. Bill Johnson / Picture Day Pro!

Brainerd/Little Falls' appearance in the Class 2A state championship serves as a motivational boost for outstate girls' hockey programs. The Warriors, who were edged by top-seeded Edina 4-3 in double overtime in the state title game Saturday, Feb. 23, became the first northern team to reach the Class 2A final since Grand Rapids/Greenway in 2008.

It should be noted that Outstate teams were well represented in this year's Class 1A tournament as Warroad was runner-up and Fergus Falls defeated Rochester Lourdes 4-2 in the consolation final.

"We're showing people that we play pretty good hockey in Northern Minnesota," B/LF goaltender Olivia King said referring to the Twin Cities teams and fans. "Three years ago, before a game against Roseau, (assistant coach) Toby Kvalevog said that we need to start a Warrior girls' hockey tradition. And I think we've done that in the past three years. What we did this weekend (at state) pushed our program and got our community involved. It was a good thing all-around, even though it didn't end how we wanted."

King deserves accolades

Many people are still talking about King's inspirational goaltending performance at state. Those who followed the Warriors all season knew about the talented senior, who finished the season with a 24-5-1 record, a 1.61 goals-against average and saved 92 percent of the shots she faced with five shutouts. But King was overlooked around the state for various goaltending awards. But she gained attention by making 101 saves in three games at state to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.


"You would certainly hope so," Warrior coach Jim Ernster said when asked if people were taking notice of King, who had a 1.45 goals against in seven postseason games. "There are a lot of talented girls in northern Minnesota who fly under the radar. I've been fortunate to have (King) with us since eighth grade, so I've seen her make a lot of tremendous saves. And for Olivia to perform at the level she played (at state) is a credit to Olivia. She showed tremendous poise and leadership all year."

Working overtime

It's hard to top the excitement for Warriors fans as the girls played two overtime games at state - losing to Edina 4-3 in the final and beating Andover 3-2 in the semifinals.

Against Andover, the B/LF coaches talked strategy just before the start of overtime. "(Assistant coach) Carl Sneep walked down to me and said we have to plan for a marathon because we've been in a long overtime game with Roseau in our section final (a 3-2 loss in four overtimes in 2016-17)," Ernster said. "You have to fight the urge to only play two lines and we were going to play three lines as long as we could."

It turned out that they didn't need to make a decision since B/LF's Cheyenne Abear scored just 10 seconds into the extra session for a 3-2 win. Abear's quick overtime goal wasn't a tournament record as Breck scored just eight seconds into overtime in beating Warroad 3-2 in last year's Class 1A final.

"There's times when you can certainly panic," Ernster said of the overtime win in the semifinals. "We needed to go out and embrace the moment and have fun. You have to get away from the idea that (state) is so pressure stricken and then you have trouble making decisions. The girls went out on the first shift and made a great play and now we're having a lot of fun."

Ernster was asked if the double-overtime loss to Roseau that he experienced in the Section 8 championship game as a hockey player for Brainerd helped him deal with difficult losses like the girls' state final.

"As a coach, I will eventually take time to reflect on it, but my concern at this moment is just for the players," he said Saturday. "These are tough losses and they sting as players, but these are moments they will cherish. We were lucky to be one of the few teams in the state to get to play 31 games."


Busy day for Aus family

Brainerd Warrior boys' hockey coach Dave Aus wished he could have been in two places Saturday. He was in Roseau coaching his squad in their 4-2 Section 8-2A semifinal upset win at Roseau. But later in the day, his daughters, Georgi and Reagan, were playing for the Brainerd/LF girls in the Class 2A state championship game in St. Paul.

"As much as I wanted to support the girls, it wouldn't be right for me to not be with our (boys) team," Aus said. "It's kind of overwhelming because it's personal. I had some pains of guilt and I was uptight when we got to the (Roseau) rink, but it gave me more drive that we won on Saturday, so internally I have some justification."

Warrior boys' assistant Kurt King did stay in St. Paul to watch his daughter, Olivia, play in the championship.

"Kurt and I were both at Thursday's game," Aus said of the girls' state quarterfinal. "We talked and decided that if the girls won on Friday (in the semifinals), then Kurt would stay for the championship. It's a little different when you're an assistant coach."

Aus added that his players followed the girls' state tournament games on their phones during the bus ride to Roseau Friday and on the way home Saturday.

"There was a minor eruption on our bus when the girls scored in overtime," Aus said of Friday's girls' semifinal win. "That was pretty cool. It's a neat thing technically. Twenty years ago we wouldn't have found out the score until we arrived at our hotel. Most of the players did get home Saturday in time to watch the (girls' state final) overtime periods."

Cross it off my bucket list


I have enjoyed covering dozens of high school state tournaments as a sports writer on-and-off over the past 35 years for the Dispatch and Echo Journal newspapers and Brainerd radio. But I never had an opportunity to cover a team playing at state in my favorite sport-hockey. The Warrior boys came close to qualifying for state in 1991 when Brainerd was edged by Roseau 3-2 in double overtime in the Section 8 final.

After becoming Dispatch/Echo Journal publisher, I didn't think I would ever have a chance to cover a hockey team at state. But I was fortunate starting in January to have the opportunity to cover Warrior hockey for the remainder of the season because of a temporary opening in our sports department. And what a great experience. The B/LF girls defended their Section 8-2A title and then registered the first Class 2A state quarterfinal and semifinal wins in program history. It has been an honor to follow the talented and classy Warrior players and coaching staffs who represented our community well at state.

I've also enjoyed covering the successful Brainerd boys' hockey team. On Saturday, the Warriors upset rival Roseau in the section semifinals. Now, I'm looking forward to covering Brainerd's section final against Moorhead Wednesday, Feb. 27 in Bemidji. Maybe playing in a fourth section final will be the charm and the boys can duplicate the B/LF's girls' success and advance to state?

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