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Luverne girls' hockey team tops New Ulm and claims Section 3A Championship

Lead Summary
Matt Lais for the Star Herald

The Luverne girls’ hockey team met rival New Ulm Tuesday night for the Section 3A Championship in New Ulm where the Cardinals emerged with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
Coach Tony Sandbulte reflected on a successful season capped by section championship.
“Hard to put into words; It’s truly been a dream season,” he said. “The girls set goals and worked hard to achieve those goals together. Winning a section championship over New Ulm only made it that more special.”
Three periods in regulation were not enough to settle the contest. It would take two extra periods before Luverne scored in the second overtime to win a trip back to the Xcel Energy Center for the third consecutive year.
The game opened with back-and-forth play, both teams controlling their nerves shift by shift in the first period.
At 4:18 into the title tilt New Ulm struck first. After a flury of saves by Luverne senior goalie Cheyenne Schutz, New Ulm’s Maddi O’ Connor got a rebound goal past a sprawling Schutz.
After one period in New Ulm, it was the Eagles holding the 1-0 lead.
Shots on goal were 14-9 in favor of the Eagles. Schutz was huge for the Cardinals making 13 saves in the period.
Luverne would get on the board 56 seconds in the period when a Payton Behr breakout pass found Reghan Bork who passed to Kamryn Van Batavia who deked around a New Ulm defender for a wrister over New Ulm’s goalie Ava Brennan.
This tied the score at one.
Play went back-and-forth between the teams with both goalies making big saves to keep their teams tied at one.
At the 11:20 mark of Period 2, Van Batavia fired a shot that was blocked by a New Ulm defender.
The puck ended up in Van Batavia’s hands again, and she fired a wrister past Brennan to give the Cardinals a huge 2-1 lead heading into the third period.
Shots on goal for the period were 14-10 in favor of the Eagles. Schutz had 14 saves keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard in the period.
In the third period New Ulm’s O’Connor responded with a wrister on Schutz, and line mate Evie Sellner crashed the net for a rebound goal to knot things back up at two goals each just 56 seconds into Period 3.
The Cardinals and Eagles battled the rest of the period, trying to slip goals past either Schutz or Brennan, but the third period horn sounded with score still tied, and the teams headed to overtime in the section championship.
Shots on goal for Period 3 were heavily in favor of the Eagles 20-5. Schutz was incredible for the Cardinals making 19 saves in the period.
The first 8-minute overtime session saw both teams having chances, and again New Ulm and Luverne rose to the occasion keeping each other from scoring the sudden death overtime decision.
Luverne was called for a late first overtime penalty that put New Ulm on the power play as time ran out in the first overtime session.
After a Zamboni break and a much-needed rest for both teams, the second overtime session got underway with the Luverne penalty carrying over from where play left off.
New Ulm had multiple opportunities on the power play, but Schutz made huge save after save, sprawling her limbs multiple times to keep the Eagles off the board.
The Cardinals killed off the penalty and it was back to 5-on-5.
With just 11:43 left in the second overtime, Luverne went on a power play after a New Ulm defender collided with Payton Behr who lost her stick. The New Ulm defender then shot Behr’s stick out of the way, causing the penalty and giving the Cardinals the huge power play.
The opening power play faceoff was in the Eagles’ defensive zone. Cardinal Bork won the faceoff back to Van Batavia who slid a pass to Behr for a one-timer that barely missed.
The Cardinals controlled the zone on the power play, not letting New Ulm get the puck to send it down the rink for an icing.
The next faceoff ended up being the defining moment in the Luverne girls’ hockey season.
Bork would take the puck out of the corner and pass to Macie Edstrom, who slid it over to Payton Behr for a hard wrister on net where Van Batavia, Bork and Mallory Von Tersch were all battling.
Bork would pound it in past a sprawling Brennan and the game was over.
The Cardinals were headed back to the Xcel Energy Center for the State Tournament. 
Final shots on goal were 51-30 in favor of the Eagles. Luverne senior goalie Schutz capped off her best game of her stellar career with 49 saves.
Coach Sandbulte remarked about the importance of championship titles in small hockey association where younger players look up to varsity girls.
“I've chatted with some girls from our first team making the tournament in 2016,” Sandbulte said. “And I told them, ‘See what you started?’ Success builds success.” 
He said the Cardinal girls built their successful momentum one game at a time. “We never gave three consecutive championships a thought ‘til it was done,” he said.
The State tournament bracket came out Sunday.
The Minnesota State Hockey Tournament seeds the Top 5 that are voted on by the board and the remaining three tournament teams get random draws to figure opening round matchups.
For the first time in school history, in both girls or boys’ hockey, Luverne was seeded at a state hockey tournament, earning the No. 5 spot.
The Cardinals will play No. 4 seed South St. Paul at 8 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 23.

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