The first two weekends of 2015 fell on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum for the Elk River/Zimmerman girls' hockey team.
The Elks saw a 9-0-1 unbeaten streak end with a shutout loss to Blaine on Jan. 3, then roared back with overtime victories on back-to-back nights last weekend.
Junior forward Breanna Simon, who ranks second on the team with 19 points on nine goals and 10 assists, said she hopes the overtime victories spark the Elks down the stretch. Thirteenth-ranked Elk River started this week 15-3-1 overall and 4-0 against Class 2A, Section 7 foes. The Elks lost in the section title game last season.
First-year coach Dale Sager credited Simon as a difference-maker.
"She's just a hard worker and a go-getter," Sager said.
Simon, who assisted on an overtime goal last weekend, took her turn sharing the spotlight. The strength of the Elks is their depth. Three players have scored at least 10 goals, and five players have tallied at least 15 points.
Simon spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about her roots in the game, the Elks' 9-0-1 surge and rebounding from the Blaine loss.
Q: When did you get into hockey?
A: Pretty much everyone on my dad's side of the family played hockey, from my uncle, Reggie, to all of my cousins. It's in our blood, basically. I started skating when I was 3 and I fell in love with it.
Q: Dale Sager took over as coach this year, and change creates a different energy. What sorts of things did he bring to the position?
A: He has brought a lot. We're getting a lot out of practice, and that's what makes us so successful.
Q: What role do you try to play on this team?
A: I try to bring the whole team together by working hard and hopefully getting everyone to jump on board. You want everyone to put all of their effort into every game and every practice because that is when you win games and accomplish your goals.
Q: What clicked so well during the team's 9-0-1 surge?
A: All of our lines were clicking and working well together. Another thing that helps us so much is that there's not just one person every game who is scoring the goals. It's multiple people every game. We have a pretty deep team.
Q: Describe the team's reaction to the Blaine loss that ended your unbeaten streak.
A: It was devastating. We weren't in tears, but it was an eye-opener. We can't come into every game thinking we're going to just win. So we went back to working hard in practice so when we play Blaine again on Saturday, hopefully we can show them that we're a better team than what we showed the first time.
Q: You came right back and beat Grand Rapids/Greenway, a section opponent, in a wild, 6-5 overtime game. What was that game like?
A: Oh gosh, it was so nerve-racking. But we came together as a team when we got down 2-0. And then we took a lead and then they tied the game. But we answered right back, and that's what is so great about this team. After the game we were jumping around like we won the state tournament.
Q: The next night you beat Champlin Park 1-0 in overtime. How tough was that game considering you weren't scoring?
A: You feel a little nervous, but I think we did a good job building each other up. On the bench we were saying, 'We've got this; we can do it.'
Q: Do you feel those two overtime victories can propel you through the rest of the regular season?
A: Our dream is to go to the state tournament, and these games were the spark we all needed. We know we can do it no matter what situation we're in.
DAVID LA VAQUE