The Moose Lake Area girls hockey team won 20 games this season, but the last of six losses it suffered ended their season prematurely.
After a 6-0 whitewash of Eveleth-Gilbert in the first round of the Section 7A tournament, the Rebels were upset 4-1 by Hibbing-Chisholm in last Saturday's semifinals at Miners Memorial in Virginia.
"I'm super proud, and very proud of the kids and the season we had," coach Joe Mohelsky said. "The players worked very hard and had a really good year. You can't judge the whole season by the last game."
The Rebels beat the Bluejackets twice in the regular season but found it hard to break through in the playoff contest.
"I don't know that it was a different Hibbing team we played," Mohelsky said. "I think it was a different Rebels team."
As good as the Rebels have been, that wasn't a good thing.
Michaela Belanger opened the scoring just 1:56 into the game but despite 23 more shots, the Rebels never again solved Hibbing goaltender Abby Edstrom.
"We came out with energy and scored first, and we outshot them by a 2-1 margin in the first two periods. But nothing else fell for us. I think after that we gripped the stick harder and let the momentum get away from us. They took over."
Mallorie Iozzo scored a power-play goal midway through the first period and Maria Gherardi's goal at 13:03 of the second period was the eventual game-winner. By that time, the Rebels had outshot Hibbing 18-9 for the game but trailed 2-1.
With momentum in the third period, Hibbing-Chisholm scored twice in a 2:41 span early in the third period for the eventual winning margin of 4-1.
"Like most high school sports, hockey is a game of momentum," Mohelsky said. "The game just got away from us, and their power-play scoring twice was a big factor."
Three penalties were assessed in the game, all against the Rebels, and Hibbing was two for three on its power play.
"We work a lot on our special teams, our power play was at about 40 percent and our penalty kill at about 80 percent," Mohelsky said. "We didn't show that work, and we didn't have a chance to be on the power play. We didn't expect to give up two power-play goals and that made the difference."
The Rebels finished their season with a fine record of 20-6-1, the most successful season in Mohelsky's 11 years as coach.
"It was the best season we've had," he said. "Winning helps with that, but there were other things that made the season enjoyable. There was a noticeable lack of drama and the team aspect these girls had was great. It made things very enjoyable as a coach. We worked hard every shift. It didn't matter if we were up or if we were down."
The team aspect should be present next year too, with four seniors graduating.
"We have a very good junior class and they will lead us next season," Mohelsky said. "But this is a special group leaving us this season."
Twins Jamie and Jessica Bird top the list, joined by Sage Gerard and Kiersten Evenson.
"The Birds mean a lot. Obviously they are very skilled players and set the bar high," Mohelsky said, "but Sage was wonderful and Kiersten was very solid all season too. We'll need to find our identity next season, and learn how to be successful in a different way.
"The younger girls really looked up to those seniors," he added. "Each senior group has its own impact and as soon as these seniors came onto the team as eighth-graders you could tell that eventually they would make the program better."
Next year's team will be anchored by a senior goaltender and that helps.
"Maddie Gamst is back, the cupboard isn't bare and we have a good group coming up," Mohelsky said. "We're just going to have to play a better brand of team style at times instead of the top guns scoring."
Mohelsky said both Jamie and Jessica Bird have attracted college interest from UW-River Falls and Gerard has visited St. Scholastica.
"It would be great if we could have players from the program move on to college hockey," Mohelsky said. "They would be some of the first ones to move on, and to have that many go on (to college hockey) is special."