Despite loss, Devils Lake girls hockey showed growth against Fargo North/South
The last time the Firebirds and Spruins met, the final score ended in a 20 goal difference in favor of Fargo North/South. Saturday's meeting between the two squads at Burdick Arena was decided by only a goal.
After falling the Spruins 22-2 over a month ago in a team scrimmage, in which the circumstances were different, Devils Lake girls hockey (0-2) challenged No. 3 Fargo North/South (1-1) for three periods, holding the Spruins to a tie through the majority of the game. While the game didn't end in favor of the Firebirds, falling 2-1 to the Spruins, the young Firebirds took strides in improving their overall game.
"That was a lot better game that we played against Jamestown," head coach Rob McIvor said. "We're starting to figure some things out in our own end and we still have some things to do with two of the lines, but I was fairly happy with the outcome today."
The biggest change from Thursday's game against Jamestown: the Firebirds found the back of the net. After the Spruins Elsie Anderson would head to the box for tripping, Devils Lake would capitalize on the power play as junior defenseman Vivianna Kraft would bang in a rebound shot from freshman forward Ashlyn Abrahamson to tie the game up at one.
The Firebirds' top line, known as "the red line" has been the teams go to on offense, specifically the duo of Kraft and Abrahamson. Abrahamson scored the Firebirds' first goal of the season on Tuesday against Fargo Davies, with Kraft assisting. Saturday, it was vice versa. Abrahamson played a major role in the Firebirds' offensive push as she used her speed to her advantage and set up the Firebirds in the Spruins offensive zone a handful of times throughout the day.
"We talked with her about skating with the puck and not going east to west but more north to south," McIvor said. "We also talked to her about using her speed and getting decent shots on net. She did a lot better on that today. There were a few times where she might've over-stickhandled, but at the same time she did go more north to south today and I was happy with that."
While the Firebirds did capitalize on the power play, McIvor said the unit still needs some work as Devils Lake did have a handful of other opportunities to score on the special teams unit. The Firebirds went 1-5 on the power play, with two of those opportunities combining for a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period. The Spruins did manage to block a handful of shots when they were down, but Devils Lake struggled at times to calculate their passes.
"Certain girls need to realize that they are older and need to hold onto the puck and make things happen rather than just throwing it around," McIvor said. "Sometimes a hope and a prayer work, but I rather see a more concise passing model where we're getting shots on net that make sense. I give credit to Fargo North/South on that 5-on-3 because they blocked a lot of shots. We got the puck in Ash's hands at the top and that usually acquaints to a shot on net with rebounds, but that didn't happen because we had a lot of shots blocked. We also weren't aggressive to the puck as well."
The aggressiveness of the Spruins was abundant from the start as they would score eight seconds into the game as Lindsey Astrup would maneuver past the Devils Lake defense and slide the puck past senior goaltender Molly Black. According to McIvor, that made Black mad. It made her so mad that she would go on to post 51 saves on 53 shots, marking the finish down as the netminder's third straight 50 plus save game.
Black has been a key component in keeping the Firebirds in games and growing the small defensive unit in front of her. The Firebirds only have three defensemen, but Black has been communicating with them from the crease on where they need to be and where they shouldn't be.
That defensive unit also managed to contain St. Thomas commit Abby Promersberger for the majority of the game. While she would score what would end up being the game-winning goal, off a snapshot in between the circles in the mid-third period, Devils Lake's top line was always out there when Promersberger was.
"There were some mismatches, but you can't help that," McIvor said. "We are running three lines, which is good and I'm fairly happy with that. We still need to work on positioning, shooting and skating, but so far we are doing alright."
Coming out of the game, the Firebirds aren't hanging their heads. The team managed to get more shots on net than the game prior, registering 22 shots on net in the game to 16 against Jamestown and added more of a systematic element to their game. McIvor set three goals for the team before the game: work hard, get shots on net, and get rebounds. Devils Lake not only fulfilled those goals but showed a massive turnaround from a 22-2 finish.
"From losing 22-2 to 2-1, there are positive notes all around," McIvor said. "We played better and we played a more systematic game of hockey where it allows the girls who are learning how to play to succeed."