Silver lining marks RRCC’s national run

Joey Payeur

Shilo Beck said she felt like a kid on Christmas Eve the night before the biggest game of her hockey career.
Then Santa Claus showed up in the form of Katherine Johnson—leaving a most unwanted lump of coal in the stocking of the Rainy River Community College Voyageurs women’s hockey team.
Johnson scored at 9:41 of the second overtime Sunday to give the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs a 2-1 victory in the final of the ACHA Division 2 national women’s hockey championship in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Johnson rushed the puck into RRCC’s zone and found forward Jordan Bright back playing defence after one of the Voyageurs’ rearguards got caught up ice.
A fake to the inside got Bright leaning the wrong way, with Johnson instead going outside before pounding the puck through the pads of RRCC goalie Shay Perry.
“We were pressing trying to get the goal and all we thought about was going north,” noted Voyageurs’ head coach Jeff Wickstrom.
“It was a good play by Johnson and that’s what it takes to win or lose these kind of games—a lapse of some sort—and we ended up paying for it,” he added.
Beck and her fellow Fort Frances-based forwards, including co-captain Shelby Tymkin, Katie Sinclair, Hailey Clendenning, and Bridget Jorgenson, helped the Voyageurs go undefeated in Pool ‘A’ play to clinch first place with a 3-0 record.
Then they overwhelmed the defending national champion North Dakota State University Bison 5-2 in Saturday’s semi-final showdown.
But RRCC only could look on in shock as the Bulldogs lit the lamp to win its second double-overtime game in less than 24 hours—leaving the Voyageurs to both savour what they had achieved and lament what could have been.
“It is what it is,” said Beck, who, like her teammates and head coach, pointed at one main culprit who was the backbone of the Bulldogs’ triumph: UMD goalie Colleen Jacoby.
“She was like a brick wall,” lauded the former Muskie of Jacoby, who made 43 saves in her more than 77 minutes worth of work in the final.
“To face that many shots and only let one in is really good,” added Beck.
“More traffic in front of her would have helped.”
Laura Meillier opened the scoring for UMD at 8:11 of the first period.
Rachel Pawluk beat Madeline Rog to the puck on the end boards and centered it to Meillier, whose quick shot eluded Perry.
“It was a defensive lapse but it happens,” shrugged Tymkin, who was selected as a First Team All-Tournament forward and also named an ACHA First-Team All-American after leading the Voyageurs in scoring with 47 points in 24 games this season.
“We worked so hard to get back into it.”
But Jacoby kept coming up with big saves time and again—and it looked like that one goal was all she and her team would need.
Tymkin had a great chance with 40 seconds left in the second period, beating Jacoby but not the left post.
“There was a little bit of frustration building up,” Clendenning admitted.
“But we kept telling ourselves it was just one goal and we can get this.”
The Voyageurs kept their word in heart-stopping fashion.
With Perry on the bench for an extra attacker, Rog collected the puck behind the UMD net and circled in front before beating Jacoby five-hole to tie the game with only 49 seconds to go.
“I went behind the net just in case when Madeline went out front and I saw the puck go in,” recalled Beck.
“I looked at her like, ‘Oh my God, that did not just happen.’
“Then our second reaction was to look at the clock and see how much time was left,” she added.
“It was so exciting.”
Tymkin considered it a just reward after what looked to be the equalizer was waved off with 2:37 to play.
“The puck was sitting on [Jacoby’s] pad and we crashed the net, and the puck flicked into the net,” she recounted.
“The referee waved it off because she couldn’t see it, and then she said she could have given us a goaltender interference penalty,” Tymkin added.
Sinclair, meanwhile, said it still felt surreal two days later to not have brought home the gold.
“It was our chance and our time,” she remarked. “We outskated them and outshot them.
“We should have had it.”
Jorgenson was the lone member of the Fort’s “Fab Five” in her first year with the team.
“Honestly, it’s the best decision I ever made to play here,” she noted.
“We all bonded so well and the girls were definitely welcoming to me and taught me a lot, and I improved so much this year.”
Wickstrom will hope to have some, if not all, of his eight second-year players back for a third year—like Perry did in returning this season.
Whether they do come back is up in the air, but he still made sure to salute the Fort contingent for their contributions to the program.
“I walked into the dressing room last year not knowing what I had and found a great group of players who have played a long time together,” he recounted.
“I pushed them hard but they were a great core to build around for two years in a row.”
Sinclair, like her teammates, was taking the wait-and-see approach for next year.
“Shelby, Shilo, Hailey, and I have played together for eight years and if this is our last hurrah, silver’s not the end of the world,” she reasoned.
Beck’s eyes glistened with emotion as she weighed the possibility of having played her last competitive game.
“I sure don’t want to give up hockey . . . playing has been so fun,” she remarked.
“It’s been a big part of me for most of my life.”