Northfield's Ryan Bielenberg was stopping everything. Low shots, high shots, breakaways and close-range blasts. Through most of two periods the junior goaltender showed no signs of cracking.
"Frustration was the biggest thing that went through us," said Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake senior Nick Zwack, who at one point in the second period punctuated yet another fruitless shift by slamming his stick on the boards as he reached the bench. "We were furious on the bench, just knowing we were getting all these scoring opportunities and they just weren't falling."
Then, suddenly, bad luck turned to good. A fluttering, bouncing puck that had no business reaching the back of the net did with 2.3 seconds left.
Frustration became elation.
Just like that the unseeded Moose defeated Northfield 3-2 on Friday at Xcel Energy Center to reach the state Class 1A championship game in their first tournament appearance.
"Just thinking about it is still surreal to us," said Zwack, who scored the winning goal on a shot to which he didn't attach much hope. "It's lucky that it did go in."
Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake (24-6-1) trailed Northfield (21-7-3) 2-0 until there was a minute left in the second period in the semifinal matchup of unseeded teams making their tournament debuts.
Moose coach Eric Nelson had been preaching all game to keep shooting and that, eventually, good things would happen. But even he had his doubts.
"Obviously their goalie was playing really well," Nelson said. "We were kind of concerned about when that something was going to go in."
Bielenberg finished with 37 saves, including 28 in the second and third periods.
"They deserve it," said Northfield coach Mike Luckraft said about the Moose. "They outplayed us. Ryan just played phenomenal, he held us in there as long as he could."