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Girls hockey: Proctor/Hermantown explodes for four goals in third period to advance to state title game

Mirage get two goals from Heitzman and three assists from Sieger to pull away from Orono.

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Proctor/Hermantown's Reese Heitzman (21) celebrates her goal against Orono during the third period Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. PAUL — Proctor/Hermantown girls hockey coach Emma Stauber could see the frustration on her players’ faces as the Mirage went into the second intermission down 1-0 after squandering a 5-on-3, but fortunately for them, it didn’t last long.

Proctor/Hermantown exploded for four goals in the third period to down Orono 4-1 Friday in the Class A girls hockey state semifinals at Xcel Energy.

Senior goalie Abby Pajari had 29 saves, Reese Heitzman added two goals and fellow junior Nya Sieger contributed three assists for the defending state champion Mirage (21-7-1), who play Warroad (25-3-1) for the Class A title in an all-north finale at 4 p.m. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.

“It’s amazing,” said senior captain Ember Kehtel. “Every kid dreams of just going to the state tournament, and being able to go to the state championship twice in your hockey career is amazing. You don’t dream of anything else when you’re playing hockey, just playing in the state championship.”

The game started with Orono quickly on the power play and the Spartans scored on just the third shot of the game. Mae Grandy took advantage of a screen and got one by Pajari on a high shot that may have been deflected.


Pajari, one of five finalists for senior goalie of the year, didn’t let another one in after that, stopping 26 straight and at one point bringing out a chant from the Mirage cheering section: “We’ve got Abby, we’ve got Abby.”

“She’s amazing,” Kehtel said. “We wouldn’t be in the position we are in without her.”

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Proctor/Hermantown goalie Abby Pajari (32) deflects a shot by Orono’s Zoe Lopez (10) during the third period of a Class A state girls hockey semifinal on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

So while the 5-foot-2 Pajari continued to block the net as if she was 6-foot-2, the Mirage offense didn’t exactly pick up the slack. Yes, they held a 17-13 advantage in shots after two periods but had yet to get one past Celia Dahl, who had 22 saves for Orono.

Additionally painful, Proctor/Hermantown squandered a 5-on-3 in the second that lasted 1:47 — what more do you need, a pulled goalie, too?

“That was tough,” Stauber said. “Obviously we had our opportunity to score there, with a couple good looks, but we never took control of it.

“But it happened and it was over with. We were a little bit down in the second intermission, but we had just enough time to reset and get back to playing Mirage hockey in that third period. We came out firing.”

If Proctor/Hermantown was looking for a spark, the Mirage found it when senior Rylee Gilbertson found sophomore Hannah Graves with a pretty no-look pass and Graves buried it just 1:03 into the third period.

“I know Hannah is always back door because she’s always calling for it,” Gilbertson said, laughing. “It happened earlier in the game but I couldn’t get it over to her so I knew she was there. I just kind passed it right behind my back and hoped it got through and then I saw the puck in the back of the net.


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Proctor/Hermantown's Hannah Graves (6) takes the puck past Orono’s Mia Lopez (18) during the first period of a state Class A girls hockey semifinal on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

“Everyone just became way more energized, with more hope, like we could do this, and we did. It was a 100% boost.”

From there, Sieger took over with some pretty passing of her own, feeding Heitzman for two goals and Jane Eckstrom with another as what appeared lost was suddenly found, another trip to the state championship game.

Pajari helped cement that trip with 17 saves in the third.

“She’s awesome,” Gilbertson said.

Orono, meanwhile, was playing in its first state tournament. The Spartans (25-4) play South St. Paul (16-11-2) at 9 a.m. Saturday at the X for third place.

“Our bench got down a little bit after they got that first goal,” Orono coach Sean Fish said. “With the big lights, you don’t know how your kids are going to react to stuff like that, so I took a timeout just to settle us down. We played great after that. We had 17 shots on net in the third; it’s not like our girls let up at all. I’m really proud of them.”

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Proctor/Hermantown celebrates their win over Orono Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in a Class A state girls hockey semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

A look ahead

Warroad downed Proctor/Hermantown 1-0 Nov. 13 in Warroad.


The Warriors advanced with a 5-0 victory over fourth-seeded South St. Paul in Friday’s second semifinal. That was part of a sluggish start for the Mirage as they opened the season 0-2 with the other loss coming against Orono. Proctor/Hermantown sputtered to a 2-3-1 start as they worked to replace 10 seniors.

Proctor/Hermantown certainly learned something from the first meeting with Orono as the Mirage held senior forward Iyla Ryskamp, who is bound for NCAA Division I Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, to no points for only the fourth time this season. In the first meeting, Ryskamp had a hat trick and two goals as the Spartans won 6-3.

“That was their game plan, to shut down No. 6, and I thought they did a really good job of that, of keeping her in check,” Fish said.

With 45 goals and 43 assists, Ryskamp came into the contest third in the state with 88 points. She is now tied for third as Warroad’s Talya Hendrickson (34-54—88), a Franklin Pierce recruit, notched a goal against the Packers. Fellow junior Kate Johnson (46-38—84) isn’t far behind as the Warriors have outscored opponents by a nearly 6 to 1 margin this season.

Proctor/Hermantown is playing in its sixth state tournament, all since 2014 (seven overall if you count Proctor/Hermantown/Marshall’s appearance in 2010). The Mirage downed Warroad 3-1 in last year’s state semifinals.

The Warriors are making their 13th appearance, with back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011 and five runners-up.

Win or lose Saturday, the Mirage program is on solid ice.

“Just being a senior, it’s incredible to see the young leadership we have on this team, leadership that’s still going to be here when we graduate,” Gilbertson said. “It’s just made for a fun experience.”


Proctor/Hermantown 0-0-4—4

Orono 1-0-0—1

First period — 1. O, Mae Grandy (Allie Pleimann, Macy Rasmussen), 1:26 (pp).

Second period — No scoring.

Third period — 2. PH, Hannah Graves (Rylee Gilbertson, Katie Sandelin), 1:03; 3. Reese Heitzman (Nya Sieger), 4:35; 4. PH, Jane Eckstrom (Sieger), 8:57; 5. PH, Heitzman (Sieger, Izy Fairchild), 16:51 (en).

Saves — Abby Pajari, PH, 29; Celia Dahl, O, 22.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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