FARGO — Bismarck Blizzard head coach Tim Meyer had deja vu entering Saturday's North Dakota girls hockey state championship. His team sat in the same locker room at Scheels Arena as they did last year. The outcome was also familiar.
It took two first-period goals for Bismarck to capture its sixth consecutive state title, defeating Fargo Davies 2-0.
"It feels surreal. Unreal. It's the best one yet," said Riley Ball, the co-MVP of the tournament, on her fourth state title. "It's good to end my senior year this way. This group of girls is one of the closest teams I've been on. We've dealt with diversity. We pulled through, and we proved them wrong."
While the Blizzard entered Saturday's championship like they never left, it was an unfamiliar stage for the Eagles, who were making their first state title appearance.
"There was a togetherness with this group, and I wanted them to get rewarded," Davies head coach Josh Issertell said. "This was the goal the whole time. I wish it ended up different for them because they put the work in."
Davies topped Bismarck, which handed the Eagles their first loss of the year Saturday, in both regular-season meetings (3-1 and 2-1).
"We just stepped up. We played nervous the first couple of times we played them," Meyer said. "When you have that idea in the back of your head that you're trying to play to not lose, we really stepped up today. We just went out and played hockey."
A scoreless second and third period proved just how even the matchup between the two top seeds was.
Bismarck struck first just under nine minutes in on a Jayda Krikorian power-play goal from the point that went top shelf. The Blizzard added another one less than two minutes later on a Madison Brown rebound to grab an early 2-0 lead that would stick.
"I thought our kids responded well in both situations. We found a way to get back to our game," Issertell said. "We had a couple good looks in the second that I thought if we cashed in on those that could really turn the tide. There was never a doubt in our room. We believed all the way until the end of the game."
Bismarck capitalized on two of four quality scoring chances in the first frame, while Davies struggled to find the back of the net on its three.
Issertell said his group didn't hit the panic button once throughout the 51 minutes of play.
"There was no panic, we continued to play with purpose," he said. "The kids emptied the tank today, so I'm proud of them."
By the time the 13-minute mark in the second frame rolled around, Davies had shaken off any title-game nerves. The momentum started flowing as the Eagles spent much of the period in the offensive zone, needing just one lucky bounce.
"You could tell (Bismarck) had been here. I think the biggest takeaway is, they got a couple premium looks and they cashed in on them. We had a couple looks tonight and came out on the other side," Issertell said. "It was a back-and-forth game. I thought each team controlled different parts of the game."
Both teams played like a state title was on the line until the final buzzer sounded. The "thank you, seniors" chants quickly followed, echoing throughout the arena as the Blizzard piled on top of each other.
Meyer and his coaching staff didn't know until noon Saturday who would be put in net, but made the decision to go with senior Lauren Watkins, who had a shutout.
"To watch her deliver in that moment was pretty special," Meyer said.
There was nothing Issertell, who was named coach of the year, was going to reprimand his players for after the game.
"We (said) we were proud of them. We love them. We appreciated the opportunity to be their coaches," he said on the conversation with his players after the loss. "The team and the program are in a better place because of these kids."
Paige Hanson and Olivia Opheim of Davies, and Ball and Brown of Bismarck received all-tournament team honors.
FIRST PERIOD: 1, B, Krikorian (Brown, Schmidt), 8:58. 2, B, Brown (German, Ball), 10:46.
SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.
THIRD PERIOD: No scoring.
SAVES: Cook 6-7-11—24. Watkins 6-5-4—15.