Thief River Falls' bid for back-to-back state tournament trips was denied by Warroad Thursday when the Prowlers came out on the short end of a 3-1 Section 8A girls high school hockey title game match-up at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The same teams produced the same score a year ago when they met in the section final at Crookston, but with a different winner when Thief River Falls earned its first ever state meet berth – a trip to St. Paul that produced a Class A championship trophy.
This time around it was the Gardner sisters who tipped the scales in Warroad's favor. Demi, a senior wing, scored twice and Mariah, a junior center, got the other goal.
It was a scoreless draw until a Thief River Falls turnover in the Prowlers' zone resulted in a shorthanded goal by Mariah Gardner at 5:20 of the second period. A low stick-side shot from the slot beat Thief River Falls goalie Mariah Nelson cleanly.
Warroad doubled its lead exactly four minutes later when Demi Gardner flipped in her own point-blank rebound.
Down 2-0 on home ice was not the scenario Thief River Falls coach Whitney Restemayer envisioned. "They (Warroad) came out and gave 100 percent and we didn't match it," she said.
The Prowlers were back in the game, however, when senior defenseman Briana Jorde beat Warroad goalie Emma Brunelle with a quick release on a blast from the face-off circle at 12:39 of the second period.
Warroad regained the upper hand on a Demi Gardner goal at 9:38 of the third period. She picked up a loose puck in the slot and, like Jorde, got off a hard shot in the blink of an eye for another two-goal spread.
Thief River Falls got Nelson off the ice in favor of an extra attacker with 2:20 remaining, but couldn't come up with a real scoring opportunity. She was back in the nets when the Prowlers were whistled for a penalty with 61 seconds left and stayed there until the final horn.
The Prowlers finished with a 26-16 advantage in shots on goal, but many of those Brunelle saves were on long range attempts.
"We could have played better," offered Restemayer.
Top-seeded Warroad will take a 23-3-1 record into the Xcel Energy Center. It was a 20-6-1 campaign for second-seeded Thief River Falls, with the loss ending an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Prowlers. The two teams split during the regular season when Warroad won 3-2 at the Gardens Dec. 8 and Thief River Falls picked up a 2-1 victory in a Jan. 12 rematch at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Warroad is headed to the state tournament for the first time after winning five consecutive Section 8A titles from 2009 through 2013. East Grand Forks was the champion in 2014 and Thief River Falls claimed honors last winter.
Warroad was ranked No. 3 in the last regular Class A state poll of the year; Thief River Falls was ranked fourth.
The announced paid attendance Thursday was 1,572.
Second period – Warroad, Mariah Gardner (Madison Oelkers), 5:20; Warroad, Demi Gardner (Kaitlyn Kotlowski), 9:20; TRF, Briana Jorde, 12:39.
Third period – Warroad, Demi Gardner (Mariah Gardner, Oelkers), 9:38.
Goalie saves – TRF, Mariah Nelson 9-1-3-13; Warroad, Emma Brunelle 8-10-7-25.