Game: No. 4 Northfield (17-9) vs. No. 2 Farmington (17-10), 5 p.m., Thursday, Owatonna Four Seasons Centre.
Recent results: Farmington hasn’t needed to sweat much to reach Thursday’s final, registering an 11-0 win against Rochester Mayo in the quarterfinals and an 8-3 win against Dodge County in the semifinals. Northfield, on the other hand, has played 102 minutes of stressful postseason hockey so far, starting with a 4-2 quarterfinal win against Owatonna and then a 2-1 semifinal victory against Lakeville South.
Earlier matchups: The Raiders and Tigers previously clashed in the Louis Schmitz Holiday Classic at the end of December, with Farmington fighting back from a 2-1 deficit to register a 4-2 victory, with the final goal scored on an empty net.
1. As Northfield coach Paige Haley said after Saturday’s semifinal upset of top-seeded Lakeville South, there’s really nothing for the Raiders to lose Thursday. Northfield is a No. 4 seed that advanced to the final, and that before this year was winless in its first two years in Section 1AA postseason play. Farmington, on the other hand, is royalty. The Tigers won last year’s section crown and two of the last three. Farmington has lost only one game against a section opponent this year, and that came via a 5-3 defeat against Lakeville South in the season-opener. Northfield, meanwhile, has lost four times against section opponents. It’s avenged two of those losses with playoff wins against Owatonna and Lakeville South, and will have an opportunity to avenge a third against Farmington. The fourth came against the Dodge County team Farmington eased past in the semifinals.
2. As high-octane as the offense has been for the Tigers in the postseason, that’s typically not been their modus operandi this season. In the regular season, Farmington scored more than five goals only once, in an 8-5 victory against Rosemount, although that statistic is also indicative of the strength of schedule that accompanies membership in the South Suburban Conference. While the team’s save percentage (.890) doesn’t jump off the page, what’s allowed Farmington to eke out so many one- and two-goal victories has been its shot prevention. In 27 games, the Tigers have only allowed 585 shots on goal, which equates to an average of 21.7 a game. For reference, Lakeville South, which limited Northfield to 22 shots Saturday, allowed an average of 25.7 shots on goal this season.
That team-wide defensive commitment allows Farmington to maximize its offensive talent, which is headlined by Jayden Siefert (eight goals, 21 assists). Ten of Siefert’s points have come in the postseason. The team’s leading scorer throughout the season, sophomore Claire Enright, is done for the season, though. After producing 13 goals and 10 assists in the regular season, she underwent hip surgery prior to the start of the postseason.
3. Farmington’s ability to suppress goal scoring, along with Northfield’s tendency to do the same, might mean only a couple pucks manage to venture into the net Thursday. In 26 games this season, the Raiders have surrendered only 32 goals, while the Tigers have given up 65 in 27 games. While Farmington does it by preventing shots on goal, Northfield keeps opponents off the board thanks in large part to sophomore goalie Maggie Malecha, who made 54 saves in Saturday’s upset of Lakeville South. Another driving factor behind the team’s sterling defensive numbers has been the play of its penalty kill unit. During the regular season, the Raiders denied opponents on the power play on 88.2% of opportunities, and so far is 9-for-9 in the postseason. That includes a two-minute stretch to close Saturday’s win, in which Lakeville South also pulled its goalie for an extra attacker, and a pair of shorthanded goals in the win against Owatonna.
Offensively, the rise of junior Payton Fox has fueled the Raiders. Since moving from defense onto the wing of the top forward line at the start of the playoffs, Fox has scored four of Northfield’s six postseason goals. Northfield’s leading scorer, junior forward Jessica Boland, a Minnesota State University, Mankato commit, dished out three assists in the quarterfinal win against Owatonna to up her full-season total to 23 goals and 25 assists in 26 games.