Shoot first, worry about aiming later.
So went St. Paul United's offensive game plan for Thursday's Class 1A, Section 4 championship game. The team's main obstacle: South St. Paul goaltender Kaity McKenzie, a daunting mix of size (6-2) and skill.
Trailing by a goal late, No. 1 seed United beat McKenzie on quick shots in the third period and overtime to escape with a 2-1 victory. Junior forward Catherine Kerin tallied the game-winning goal on a quick shot from the slot to beat McKenzie with 3:05 remaining in overtime.
"I heard my coaches in my head saying, 'Take the one-timer, take the shot,'" said Kerin, who sent United to its third consecutive state tournament. The team took runner-up to Blake the past two seasons.
No. 2 seed South St. Paul looked poised to end a three-year state tournament drought. An errant pass out of the corner bounced off a St. Paul United player's skate and right to South St. Paul senior forward Mackenna Emery in the high slot. She put the fortunate bounce to good use, burying the game's first goal just 1:46 into the third period.
United coach Nate Mauer figured the first team to score would win. As time slipped away, his prediction looked correct. His players felt otherwise.
"We were really working on keeping it positive," Kerin said. "As it kept going we kept saying, 'We don't want this to be our last 10 minutes, our last five minutes.'"
A little over one minute remained in United's season when the team lined up for a faceoff with a 6-on-4 advantage in South St. Paul's zone.
The puck came toward senior defender Bergen Kobienia and she fired fast to beat McKenzie, the only 1A candidate among the five finalists for Senior Goalie of the Year.
Her goal tied the score 1-1 with 1:06 to play and forced overtime.