The Farmington Tigers girls' hockey team advanced to the Section 1AA championship game for the third-straight year Saturday night, Feb. 9, when they beat the Lakeville South Cougars 8-0 in Farmington. The Tigers have absolutely breezed through the playoffs so far with an 11-0 win over Rochester John Marshall. Farmington is the No. 1 seed in Section 1AA while Rochester John Marshall was No. 9 and Lakeville South No. 5. Farmington will play No. 2 Lakeville North on Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna.

The matchup with the Cougars could have been a revenge game for the Tigers after losing to Lakeville South 6-5 in last year's section championship game. Farmington led 5-3 heading into the third period last winter before Lakeville South scored three unanswered goals to go to state. However, any chance for drama like the previous year was quickly squashed when the Tigers led 2-0 after the first period and just kept on scoring with three more goals in the second and third periods each.

Farmington will take on Lakeville North in the section championship game. In their previous two meetings this season, the Tigers beat the Panthers 4-2 and 3-0. Last year, they beat Lakeville North 6-0 in the second round of the section playoffs.

Peaking at the right time

The Tigers have been razor sharp so far in the playoffs, not only on offense but on defense as well. Farmington's defense has allowed just 16 shots on goal in their two playoff games and sophomore goalie Ryleigh Furlong has been stellar with two playoff shutouts. They are peaking at the right time and a large part of that is the return of some veteran leadership.

"They've grown a lot over the year. Our phrase has always been 'get an inch better every practice, every day' but the biggest thing right now is we just got back Jenna Gerold who is our senior captain and Bailey Kelley who's a senior," head coach Jon Holmes said. "To join them with Cassie Knutson, a senior who's been playing all year, we now have three players that weren't playing all year (together) that are now playing. Jenna, this is her third game back and Bailey, this is maybe her seventh game total this year and I think together they've got five or six goals these last few games. Having them on the ice and not just on the bench with a helmet on is huge. They're leaders and they're seniors."

Gerold had miss almost the entire season with an ACL tear, but provides valuable experience for a very young team as one of the few players left who have been a part of the past few Tiger teams who have had so much success. As Holmes said, Gerold and Kelley have had an instant impact so far in the playoffs. Gerold leads the teams with six points (three goals and three assists) while Kelley has four points (three goals and one assist). But as good as Farmington has been on offense, perhaps even more impressive with a young team has been their defense.

"Our defensive core is amazing. Obviously, they've got Division 1 offers and Division 3 offers, lots of experience on the ice. They control the pace of the game and then the forwards have really been buying in to what's their job," Holmes said. "It's so easy when you have really good defenseman to kind of let them do the work, and I think that's how we started the year off. And with a young team it took longer than normal to get forwards to go 'just because they're good doesn't mean we can't be an option for a pass or something.' The last few games have been exactly where we want to be."

A huge part of the Tigers' defensive effort has been the play of Furlong in her first year on varsity.

"In terms of a kid for most improved player, by far she (Furlong) came out of the JV net last year, never saw a varsity game behind two college goalies. She stepped in right away, got thrown into the fire but she worked hard in the off-season to put herself in the position where she had a good starting point," Holmes said. "And each game, to take that phrase 'an inch better', she did it, she just kept getting there. There's been games where we would rely on our offense to get some points and they didn't come through, and she's kept us in it or even won them for us."

Holmes also said that the increased offensive production can be attributed to the return of those seniors which pushes players down the line and improves the lines by default. He also said that the renewed focus on defense is freeing up more on the offensive end.

No contest so far

Farmington went ahead 2-0 over Lakeville South in the first period and never looked back as they scored eight goals and had six players score (with 11 recording a point) in their 8-0 victory. Kelley scored first midway through the first period assisted by sophomores Jayden Siefert and Carly Lancaster. Less than two minutes later, junior Izzy Zwart put the Tigers up 2-0 with help from Seifert and sophomore Brenna Fuhrman.

In the second period, the Tigers got goals from Lancaster (assisted by eighth-grader Abby Gehrke), Zwart's second short-handed with help from junior Grace Auge and another from Kelley (assisted by Gerold). Then in the third, they added three more goals from junior Bailey Zimmer (from Auge), freshman Claire Enright (on a power play from Gerold) and Auge (with help from Zimmer and junior Madison Tonsager. Farmington outshout Lakeville South 46-11.

Eight different Tiger skaters scored their 11 goals in the rout of Rochester John Marshall. In a span of less than two minutes sophomore Carly Lancaster, freshman Claire Enright and fellow freshman Samantha Moehle scored all three of Farmington's first-period goals. Midway through the second period Kelley scored unassisted and then Gerold scored a couple minutes later with help from Enright to take a 5-0 lead.

In the third period Gerold scored two more goals (one shorthanded) for a hat trick. Moehle scored a second goal while junior Grace Auge, freshman Ava Johnson and sophomore Kiersten Wood all scored to make it the 11-0 final. The Tigers outshot John Marshall an astounding 65-5 and held them shotless in the second period.