Members of the Northern Lakes Lightning hockey team celebrate March 18

Members of the Northern Lakes Lightning hockey team celebrate March 18 after downing Princeton 4-3 in overtime to reach the Minnesota State High School League Section 5A semifinals for the first time. The Lightning followed that up with a 7-1 win over Pine City to secure a trip to the section championship this week.

After a thrilling overtime victory against Princeton March 18, the Northern Lakes Lightning hockey team had already made program history.

The win gave the Lightning its first-ever trip to the Minnesota State High School League Section 5A semifinals, but why stop there? The Lightning then used four first-period goals March 20 to cruise to a 7-1 win against Pine City.

The No. 2-seeded Lightning will now play in the Section 5A Championship Thursday at top-seeded Monticello. The two teams met earlier this month, with the Moose leaving Breezy Point Arena with a 4-3 victory.

Northern Lakes takes a record of 17-3 into the title game while the Moose are at 12-6-1 on the season. Monticello got to the championship game with a win in double overtime over Chisago Lakes.

In the win over Pine City, the game was scoreless for 14 minutes before the Lightning got goals from Kyler Couture and Hunter Nybakken within 30 seconds of each other.

“I’m so happy for our kids,” said Lightning coach Craig Larson. “They came out hard and had a great first period. Our defense really kept them away from goaltender Adler Hoagland.”

Erik Larsen and Caiden Kjelstrom assisted on the second goal. A little over a minute later at 15:45, Tyler Seeling scored from Larsen and Nybakken for a 3-0 lead and then with just four seconds left in the period, Carter Holtzleicer scored from Colton Craig for the 4-0 lead after one period.

The Tigers got their only goal on the power play to make it 4-1 in the second but Seeling scored his second of the night at 12:22 to put the lead back to four goals at 5-1.

Again, just before the end of the period, the Lightning got a goal from Darby Boelter assisted by Seeling and it was 6-1 into the third. Andrew Villareal got his first goal of the season at 5:52 of the period with the assists going to Isaac Peterson and Colton Craig.

The Lightning put the pressure on after getting the lead. Pine City’s Mason Olson faced 25 shots, stopping 18 while Hoagland faced just 14 shots, stopping 13. The Lightning were penalized four times for 11 minutes while the Tigers were whistled three times for six minutes.

Coach Larson was happy with the team’s effort but singled out a couple of players.

“I don’t know what more we can ask of Caiden Kjelstrom,” Larson said. “Owen Miller had a good night as well on defense.

In the quarterfinal overtime win over Princeton, Couture scored with 31.4 left in overtime.

Zach Ehnstrom got the puck to Couture, who bounced past a defender and went in alone on Devon Day before firing the puck into the net.

“This was a game that you love as a player because the intensity never changes,” said a relieved Larson after the game. “It was a barn burner.”

Princeton                         1   1   1   0   –   3

Northern Lakes              1   1   1   1  –   4

Pine City                               0   1   0   –   1

Northern Lakes                   4  2   1    –   7

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