Four consecutive section final meetings between Hill-Murray and Stillwater have featured the trappings of a budding rivalry.
Hill-Murray's 6-3 upset victory of No. 3 Stillwater on Friday in the Class 2A, Section 4 championship at Aldrich Arena provided one of those games in which the favored team ran into a team that played much better.
The Pioneers, who went 3-4-1 to close the regular season, played the aggressors through much of the game. No. 11 Hill-Murray (18-5-4) was tenacious where the Ponies seemed, at times, tentative.
"We knew they were going to come hard," Stillwater coach Matt Doman said. "And they did. They played hard and they played well. You've got to tip your hat to those guys."
Hill-Murray led 3-1 on goals by Will Sonntag and Kyler Yeo scored just 12 seconds apart in the second period. Battling back, Stillwater (24-4) tied the score 3-3 when Thomas Bruchu scored just 1:28 into the third period.
"Probably both teams deserve to be in the state tournament," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "What we truly believed, though, is during the year, we've played in a lot of those games against Edina and Elk River. So I think these guys had a comfort zone going into the third like, 'We've been here before.' "
That confidence overcame a Ponies team that entered the game with eight consecutive victories in which they averaged 6.75 goals per game.
Hill-Murray went ahead for good at 4-3 on Joseph Quast's goal at 10:36. The Pioneers hit the empty net twice in the closing minutes.
For Hill-Murray players, the finish was a dramatic opposite of last season when Stillwater's Noah Cates won the game on a dazzling overtime goal.
"We had a little hiccup, but Coach kept us calm and told us to stay in it," Quast said. "We stayed in it and we won it."