The general feeling was for a tight defensive game Saturday night in the boys hockey Section 1AA semifinals between Owatonna and Lakeville North. What developed was even more dramatic. Owatonna junior Preston Meier traded spectacular saves with North's future Golden Gopher Skylar Vetter for nearly 49 minutes.

It was more than just the goalies delivering the defensive gem. Owatonna Huskies were sprawled over the ice blocking shots. Tanner Stendel slowly skated to the bench after blocking one with his upper body. He returned to play only to be smashed with a questionable hit into the boards.

North defenders bailed out their goalie a couple times by clearing loose pucks in front of the net. She also stopped Dom Valento on a breakaway early and a 2-on-0 chance. The game remained scoreless until deep into the third period.

Finally, a blast from the blue line by Panthers' senior defenseman Ben Monson found its way into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

In the closing minute, a furious flurry took place at the front of the North net. An Owatonna player was called for a penalty with 12 seconds to go. That left the Huskies in a nearly impossible position. They went with five skaters and no goalie on the faceoff deep in their own end and gave up the second goal for the 2-0 final.

It's the fifth time in the last eight seasons that North has ended Owatonna's season in the section semifinals. The difference this season, in addition to the closeness of the game, was the site. Due to the pandemic, the game was at the high seed. It marked the first game coaching at Ames Arena for Owatonna's Josh Storm, a Lakeville grad.

North moves on to play Lakeville South for the section title on Wednesday. South spotted Hastings a goal then roared back for 7-1 victory. South beat and tied North during the regular season. The Cougars are the defending section champs.

Owatonna's roster had nine seniors, including Sam Sampson, Zach Kubicek, Wyatt Oldefendt, Casey Johnson, Dom Valento, Aaron Bangs, Brody Homan, Joseph Bellomy, and True Gieseke. Managers Julia Dietz and Madi Bruessel, plus cheerleader Lauren Bateman, are also seniors.

Owatonna finished the season 13-5-1 and a top three finisher in the Big Nine.

In Section 1A, top-seed Dodge County sailed by Albert Lea 9-2 and Mankato West dominated LaCrescant-Hokah 10-2 in the semifinals. The Wildcats will host the Scarlets in the finals on Wednesday, March 24 in Kasson.

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