With the score tied 3-3 and 14 minutes left to play, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton senior forward Kiana Bender skated with the puck into Warroad's zone. She threw a shot toward the net that flew high and wide right above the goal.
Immediate feelings of disappointment were supplanted by sudden shock. The seemingly innocent shot took a perfect Lumberjacks' bounce, ricocheting into the back of Warroad goaltender Kendra Nordick and into the goal.
The go-ahead goal proved to be the game-winner Friday for No. 3-seeded Cloquet-Esko-Carlton as it defeated No. 2 seed Warroad 5-3 in a Class 1A semifinal in the girls' hockey state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
"When I saw it jump up and trickle over, I was like 'please go in, please go in,' " Bender said. "I was really excited."
Warroad (22-5-2) overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 earlier in the game, but couldn't regroup after Bender's bouncing goal.
"That was a back-breaker there," Warroad coach David Marvin said. "That's an NHL bounce, you don't see that one in normal rinks."
Two minutes later, Bender got the benefit of another deflection as a Lumberjacks shot redirected off her elbow into the net to give her team some more breathing room.
"I didn't even see it go in. I just saw my teammates put their arms up and cheer," Bender said.
Senior Taylor Nelson scored the first three goals for the Lumberjacks before assisting on both of Bender's goals. Nelson has 47 goals this season.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (27-3-0) will play in the state championship game for the first time since 2005.
"We're sort of the underdog, Cinderella-type story," Lumberjacks coach Courtney Olin said. "We just got to believe in ourselves regardless of who we're playing."