Owen Bushy of Thief River Falls (left) and Evan Girdler of Red Lake Falls (15) watch as a second-period shot beats Thief River Falls goaltender Conor Roff. Photo courtesy of Julie Seeger
RED LAKE FALLS - Sophomore forward Gavin Girdler scored three goals and senior goaltender Pacey Struthers stopped 34 of 35 shots to highlight a historic night for Red Lake Falls as it beat Thief River Falls 4-1 on Thursday at Cardin-Hunt Arena. The win is believed to be the Eagles' first over the Prowlers in a series that dates to the 1955-56 season.
“It’s huge,” Red Lake Falls coach Trevor Page said about the importance of the victory. “I don’t know if it will have an impact on our program, but I’ve already gotten 40 text messages.”
A near-capacity crowed estimated at 600 watched Red Lake Falls snap a 27-game losing streak against Thief River Falls, dating to a 1-1 overtime tie on Dec. 28, 1998.
While several ties have been documented, research conducted of school yearbooks, newspaper articles and multiple media outlets failed to reveal an Eagles win over the Prowlers. Interviews with present and former coaches, former journalists from the area and others close to both programs also failed to uncover a Red Lakes Falls victory in the series between the northwest Minnesota towns separated by 18 miles of Highway 32.
There’s no official record of the exact number of games played between the teams since Red Lake Falls started its program in 1955-56, but they typically meet once in the regular season and occasionally in the postseason.
Girdler scored the lone goal of the first period and then put the Eagles (14-8-0) ahead 2-1 midway through the second with a highlight-reel goal that featured some slick skating and deft stickhandling. Girdler, who leads Red Lake Falls with 39 goals, scored with 53 seconds left in the second period to put the Eagles ahead 3-1.
Senior Evan Girdler, Gavin’s older brother, added a goal 17 seconds later to complete the scoring. The goal was his 32nd of the season.
Gavin Girdler ranks second in the state with 81 points. Evan Girdler is fourth with 76. Junior Blake Breiland, the third member of the Eagles' top trio, has 44 points. Page, who has just 15 players on his varsity roster, said the forward unit plays about 70 percent of each game.
“This is always a a big game for us, and that’s what we have been talking about the last month,” Page said about what he called the team’s best performance of the season. “When we play like that, we have a chance of beating anyone.”
Thief River Falls (9-13-1) outshot Red Lake Falls 13-4 in the third period.
“They were throwing anything and everything at the net,” Page said. “(Struthers) was really square to the puck and he was controlling the rebounds really well.”
Red Lake Falls' sophomore Gavin Girdler celebrates after scoring one of his three goals on Thursday against Thief River Falls. Photo courtesy of Julie Seeger