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Alex girls' hockey has season ended in overtime

The Alexandria girls' hockey team saw its season come to a heartbreaking end at Ridder Arena on Thursday afternoon as the Cardinals fell 3-2 in overtime against Mound-Westonka.

The White Hawks' Jessica Nkhata proved to be the hero as she tapped in a goal in the midst of a crowd that surrounded the crease with 51 seconds left in the extra session. That completely erased what had been a 2-0 lead for Alexandria.

"We went out and gave it our all," an emotional Shanee Herd said after the game. "We have no regrets. We gave it our all, and there's nothing else we can do. We told [the other girls], we're crying because we're done with this team. As seniors, this has been the tightest group I've ever played with. We're a family, and that's why we're so sad. It's sad that it's over, not that we lost."

The Cardinals were in the driver's seat through much of the first two periods. Herd set up her fellow senior co-captain, Shelby Iverson, with an assist early in the middle frame. Iverson knew what to do with the pass as she carried the puck toward the crease and sent it past Westonka goalie Emma Polusny. That gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead just 22 seconds into the period.

Junior forward Melissa Drown then gave Alexandria all the momentum almost seven minutes later. Drown found herself all alone after a pass from Nicole Bartels as she connected on a breakaway to make it a 2-0 game.

"We felt good," Iverson said. "But we also knew that we had to keep pushing it because they are such a great team that they can come back."

That's exactly what the White Hawks did. Nkhata got her first goal with a little more than two minutes left in the second period to cut her team's deficit in half heading into the locker room. The White Hawks continued to pressure the net in the third as Liz Schepers scored the equalizer 8:21 into the period.

Both teams started to take a few penalties down the stretch of a tie game. Alexandria committed three penalties during the third period and into overtime. Two of those came near the 10-minute mark in the third, which led to a 5-on-3 opportunity that the White Hawks couldn't take advantage of. Mound-Westonka also had two penalties in the third period and another in overtime.

"Everyone was tired," Herd said. "People who were getting tripped were falling easier because you're tired. If you get touched, it's a lot harder to stay up. As the tripper, it's a lot easier to get your stick in there than to say, 'OK, come on legs, let's go.' That's why you were seeing a few more penalties both ways."

The White Hawks were ultimately able to take advantage of one of those penalties late in overtime. With her team on the power play, Nkhata found herself in a crowd in front of the net and slapped away at the loose puck. She got just enough of it to sneak it past Amy Jost for the game winner.

"I thought that both teams played every shift head on," Alexandria head coach Andy Shriver said. "Neither team seemed to enjoy a huge advantage at any point in the game. It was just play after play after play, sometimes we scored, sometimes they scored. It just came all the way down to the wire and they got the last one."

The game was played about as even as two teams can play. The White Hawks held a slim 36-35 advantage in shots. Both goalies played well in net. Jost, a freshman in her first state tournament, took a tough loss after recording 33 saves. Polusny, an 8th grader, was equally as good with 33 saves to pick up the win.

The loss for the Cardinals ended their season with a 19-8-2 record overall. That's an improvement of six wins from a year ago.

"This was our goal, to get here," Iverson said of the state tournament. "We got here and we wish that it would have turned out a little bit better. But we know that we all played to win, and we all played so hard. It just didn't go our way this time."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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