Not far into the postgame locker room, overjoyed Maple Grove junior forward Taylor Wente asked, "Is this real?"
There were plenty of reasons to wonder how the Crimson engineered a 1-0 semifinal upset of two-time defending state champion and previously undefeated Hill-Murray.
Maple Grove is playing in its first state tournament. Goaltender Breanna Blesi made her debut in the playoffs. And No. 1-seeded Hill-Murray (28-1-1) was favored to win a third consecutive state championship.
Overcoming their jitters, Crimson players rallied around Blesi, who stopped all 43 of the Pioneers' shots. As a result, No. 4-seeded Maple Grove (22-5-2) moves to the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday against Eden Prairie.
"I don't really have anything to say except I love my team," Blesi said. "We were really good in the defensive zone."
The Crimson executed coach Amber Hegland's game plan: Take away the middle of the ice, clog the area around the net and don't worry about getting outshot.
"We needed to give everything and sacrifice ourselves for the good of the team," Hegland said. "That's what you saw."
Wente scored the game's only goal at 10 minutes, 29 seconds of the second period on a power play. From there, Maple Grove shut Hill-Murray down.
"During TV timeouts, we said we needed to come together as a team," Pioneers defenseman Mekenzie Steffen said. "We couldn't wait for one person. We had to do it together. I felt it coming, but we couldn't finish."
Hill-Murray saw its 40-game unbeaten streak end — its previous loss also came against Maple Grove.
David La Vaque