GRAND FORKS — Fargo Davies was determined to get back to the state championship from the moment the Eagles walked off the ice as the runners-ups a year ago. On Saturday night, Davies' story had a different ending.
For the first time since the 2014 season, a new girls hockey champion was crowned in North Dakota. The Eagles left the arena with a state title.
The No. 2 seed Eagles grinded out a 3-2 win over top-seeded Fargo North-South at Ralph Engelstad Arena, a team the Eagles had lost to in shootouts during both regular-season meetings. It was the first all-Fargo final in tournament history.
"When the buzzer went off, all I could think about was my team and celebrating and going back in the locker room," junior defenseman Kaylie Zimmerman said. "It’s a moment I’ll never forget."
Zimmerman netted the state-championship winning goal to clinch the title for her team with a snipe from the point late in the third period.
"Personally, I didn’t really see it go in," Zimmerman said. "But when my teammates were coming at me, it was just the best feeling ever."
Davies completed its revenge tour during the tournament — downing Bismarck, the then-six time state champs that beat Davies in the championship last season, in the semifinals Friday.
"I’m so happy for these kids. They really deserve it," Davies head coach Josh Issertell said. "They came together as a group at the right time. They battled for each other. We were all in all year on COVID protocols and the team dynamic."
The championship was decided in roughly 18 minutes. The game was scoreless until the last 51 seconds in the second period, when Davies junior Olivia Opheim broke the scoring deadlock on a breakaway.
Opheim blocked a Spruins shot from the point, which gave her a breakaway. The puck bounced to the opposing blue line and Opheim sprinted down the right lane, beating both North-South defenders to the puck. She got a shot off that was stopped by North-South goalie Olivia Gowin, but deposited her own rebound. The puck deflected back into the net off Opheim's skate.
The Eagles saw their narrow lead slip away twice in the third period, but never let that discourage them. Davies has a roster full of veterans, including five seniors, that wanted to take care of last year's unfinished business.
"We struggled coming out in the first period today, but we kept reminding ourselves this is the last game we have together," Davies senior Kaia Johnson said. "We wanted to give it our wall, give it everything we got. We gave it 110% today and that’s what helped us win."
Davies spent four of the first 10 minutes of the game on the power play, but couldn't get anything going against a solid North-South penalty kill. The first North-South penalty was called 53 seconds into the game.
"I don't even think the nerves had settled in," Issertell said on the early power-play performances.
There were early goals in both regular-season meetings between the teams, but neither of the previous two games had as many penalties. Saturday's championship game, which featured 10 penalties, was a battle of special teams.
Davies was whistled for four penalties in the second period, and went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
"Our PK was on point today," Issertell said. "Those kids did a (heck) of a job killing penalties for us. You know they have (Abby) Promersbeger and (Rylee) Bartz out there at the same time. They’re dynamic, they’re dangerous. So is it stressful? Sure. But our kids found a way. We had a game plan and they executed."
Even strength or down a player to the box, North-South was tenacious on both ends of the ice in the first period. The Spruins had a swarming offensive attack that led to a few Davies icing calls. The Spruins forced a handful of Eagles turnovers in all three zones.
Both goaltenders came up big in the second period. North-South peppered Davies goalie Kennedy Cook with 12 shots — three times more than Davies' four second-period shots.
The Spruins tied the game at 1-all 10 minutes into the third period. Abby Promersberger deflected a Madelyn Rohrich shot from the slot from her forearm into the net.
"I think we were just resilient throughout the third," Issertell said. "You have a lead, you see it go away two different times. It takes quite a bit of mental and intestinal fortitude to find a way back, and we finally executed on the power play. So it felt great."
Johnson gave Davies its lead back 23 seconds later. She was parked at the left side of the crease and sent a rebound top shelf.
"I saw a rebound opportunity, so I had to give it my all," Johnson said. "I went to the net, and I just plopped it in. Thank God it went in."
North-South sophomore Rylee Bartz, the state's leading scorer, tied it back up at 2-2 two minutes later with a quick snapshot from the slot.
"It’s always nerve-wracking when you get scored on in any game, especially the state championship game," Opheim said. "But we’re a team that once we get scored on, we don’t quit."
The Spruins were whistled for a penalty with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. Davies was unable to generate any production on its first five power plays, but the Eagles capitalized when it mattered. The Eagles needed just 19 seconds to net the power-play goal.
SECOND PERIOD: 1, FD, Opheim, 16:09.
THIRD PERIOD: 2, FN-S, Promersberger (Rohrich), 10:00. 3, FD, Johnson (Klassen, Vetter), 10:23. 4, FN-S, Bartz (Olson, Promersberger), 12:35. 5, FD, Zimmerman (Johnson, Klassen).
SAVES: FN-S, Gowin 9-3-6—18. FD, Cook 7-12-2—21.