THANKS to a red-hot goaltender and a couple rifle shots from a first-year player, the Dakota Lancers are one game away from being crowned champs of the Winnipeg Women's High School Hockey League.
On Tuesday, the Lancers opened their best-of-three final series against WWHSHL Division A rivals, the Louis Riel Voyageurs, with a decisive 4-1 victory at the MTS Iceplex.
Although the score looked lopsided, Lancers coach Brad Johnston said the game was tight on the ice. No surprise, given that the teams split their two matches during the season.
"It was a pretty even game, but our goalie played really well," Johnston said. "The second (game in the series) will be the same."
Indeed, the Voyageurs' lone goal -- scored with 6:24 left in the third period by Jenna Mazur, off assists by Emilie Carr and Julie Hince -- was the first one scored against Lancers goalie Kelsey Bowerman in 144 minutes of playoff action.
The Lancers skaters turned out to help their goalie. The team struck first at 10:55 of the first period, when 15-year-old Kayla Friesen took a pass from Trina Allard, streaked into the offensive zone and fired a rocket from just above the hashmarks; it was the Lancers' first shot on goal, and it beat the Voyageurs' goalie clean.
"She's definitely got the hardest shot in the league, and she showed it today," Johnston said of Friesen, a Grade 9 student in her first year with the Lancers.
Friesen would score on another wicked shot in the closing minutes of the third to bring the score to 4-1. The assist went to Olivia Renaud, who had scored the Lancers' third goal only a few minutes earlier, with assists to Natasha Esquivel and Allard.
Dakota's game-winning goal came at 9:37 of the second, when Natali Miller scored off the rush on an assist from Laurie Aftanas.
The Lancers and Voyageurs meet again at 4:15 p.m. Thursday. They will take to the ice again on Friday afternoon if a third game is needed.
"It's going to be tough," Friesen said after the game. "They are going to come out strong, and we just have to be mentally and physically focused for it."
Meanwhile, just across the MTS Iceplex floor, the Division B best-of-three final kicked off with a spirited tilt between the River East Kodiaks and the St. Norbert Celtics. That game turned out 4-0 in the Kodiaks' favour, with the bears opening scoring only seven seconds into the first period with a goal from Cassandra Szczepanski.
The Kodiaks and Celtics will be back on the ice at 4 p.m. Wednesday for the second match, with a third scheduled for Friday if they split the first two of the series.