Girls hockey games between Bismarck and Mandan have been must-see events for the last several seasons.
The second iteration of the rivalry in the 2021-22 season took the ice Friday night and needed a shootout for a winner to be declared, as the Bismarck Blizzard outlasted the Mandan Braves 2-2 (1-0).
"It was a real fun one for the spectators, fans got a good show of it," Bismarck head coach Tim Meyer said. "A little disappointed in our ability to finish it out (in regulation), but you have to tip your hat to Mandan, they came out hard and capitalized to tie it up."
Bismarck generally controlled the play and likely had the edge in both scoring chances and shots in the first two periods, but the score was still knotted at zero.
"It was a very even, very close-matched game through the first two periods," Meyer said. "It really came down to the wire. It didn't feel like we were always matching their intensity, and if you leave a team like Mandan with the passion and skill they play with hang around, you'll have yourself some trouble later on in the game."
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But there was an indication perhaps that the game was turning in Mandan's favor, as the Braves had killed off a penalty in the final five minutes of play and then drew a penalty on Bismarck to give themselves a period-hopping extra-skater advantage.
"Penalties by definition can hurt or help you," Mandan head coach Ben Hertz said. "It helped calm our nerves down a little bit (after that first penalty was called). Bismarck comes at you with everything they have, regardless of what's going on.
"We didn't have the start or tempo we wanted, we want to play more on the o-zone side of things, but that penalty got us calmed down and got us clicking and gave us some confidence."
The final 25 seconds of the penalty bled off the clock to start the third period, and then things got really interesting. The Blizzard were called for their second penalty, and this time, Mandan converted.
A failed clear by Bismarck tumbled around in front of Blizzard goalie Kambree Grabar, and after several whacks at it, Mikayla Fleck was the one to finally punch the icebreaker home.
"We came out flat in the third," Meyer said. "As the minutes kept clicking down, you could just feel like something was going to happen. I'm proud of our girls that when Mandan did get the first one, we didn't quit."
As if Bismarck wanted to make things even harder on themselves, they were called for its third penalty of the last 10 minutes of ice time and put the Braves on their third power play of the game.
This time Bismarck killed the penalty, but Mandan was still dominating both play and offensive zone-time. Time was ticking down on Bismarck to find the equalizer.
That's when Brenna Curl joined the party.
"We were getting good chances all game long," Curl said. "Their goalie had a good night, but we knew if we kept pounding away at rebounds, we'd eventually pop one in."
Curl, a sophomore forward for the Blizzard who leads the team in both goals and points, was the recipient of Bismarck's first puck luck of the night after the team had struggled to find a way to solve Mandan's pesky defense.
A free puck that had escaped the grasp of Mandan captain and goaltender Jayli Wandler after teammates Averie Hanson and Avery Matt had their chances to beat Wandler found its way to Curl, and she flipped the puck up and over the senior's shoulder to level the score.
"We were just throwing pucks at the net," Curl said. "After that one went in, it broke the ice, we got some momentum going, and we were able to get a second one."
Bismarck wasn't done yet. After drawing a tripping penalty on a breakaway that could have resulted in a penalty shot, the Blizzard used up 1:58 minutes of extra skater action before Matt took advantage of a loose puck in front of Wandler and somehow eluded the goalie's pads and teammates to give Bismarck the lead.
A deficit had suddenly flipped to lead, and now Bismarck had to try and protect it. That was made more difficult when they took an interference penalty with 1:47 left on the clock.
That led to extended zone time for the Braves, and Meyer pulled his goalie with 1:20 left on the clock. The Braves had failed to score in a near-identical scenario the first time the two teams met, though Bismarck retained all of their skaters on the ice during the 6-on-5 play in that first game.
Mandan rewarded its coach for the move this time. A bad turnover by the Blizzard put the puck on Fleck's stick, and she centered to Madison Hertz. Hertz's shot eluded the grasp of Grabar, and with 46 seconds left, the game was tied.
"Unfortunately, penalties have been a issue for us all season long," Meyer said. "You want to try and play on the edge of being aggressive and playing hard while being smart enough to not end up in the penalty box.
"We have to find a way to finish that game off and not end up going into a shootout."
The eight-minute overtime affair that followed was full of heart-pounding chances. Bismarck again controlled the majority of play, though the Braves did have a few near-misses.
"This is was our third overtime, so we aren't unfamiliar with it," Meyer said. "I thought we did a good job of getting a lot of chances, but credit to their goaltending and defense to make it so we needed the shootout to get the extra point."
Finally, all that was left to do to decide the game was a shootout.
The Blizzard led off with Ava Krikorian, followed her with Curl, and ended with Bauer Ackerman.
"We try to practice shootouts once a week at least," Meyer said. "We take it seriously and look at the kids and who has the most success, so we went with the kids who we thought would give us the best chance with our first three."
Mandan responded with a three-player lineup of Isabella Holle, Kenlee Edland, and Maci Berg.
"We let (Wandler) pick the lineup," Hertz said. "She sees them at practice, and we had a list down, but when we had the break, she put her numbers down and that's what we rolled with."
A miss from Krikorian was followed by an agonizing shot for the Mandan faithful in attendance, as Holle's slapshot chance from between the circles clanged off the pipe.
"If that one goes in, maybe momentum goes the other way," Hertz said. "But that's how the game went. Momentum this way, momentum that way. Bounce this way, bounce that way."
Curl scored on her chance on a shot that somehow edged through the pads of Wandler, and the three skaters that followed her were all stopped by the respective goalies facing them, giving Bismarck the win and the extra point.
"(Wandler) is a really good goalie, so I knew I had to weigh my options as I was skating in," Curl said. "I saw an open spot on the ice, so I decided to rip it there, and it happened to work out in my favor."
Despite the loss, Hertz is still happy with how his team played against a tough opponent like Bismarck.
"We got a lot of positives to take away tonight," he said. "We were right with them in the first game in Bismarck, and this game, we went up and then got down and battled back and the girls really showed their passion tonight.
"We're going to keep building off tonight, and we don't need to give up or lay down against anybody."