Pioneers advance to state final behind Zhan’s 36 saves

Grace Zhan stopped 36 shots, many of them point blank attempts, and the Hill-Murray defense did their share of blocking shots as well as the Hill-Murray Pioneers defeated Andover 3-1 Friday in the Class AA semifinals. 

The Huskies outplayed the Pioneers for two periods, but they couldn’t get a puck past the Hill-Murray blockade.

“The first period was very good for the Pioneers” said Hill-Murray Co-Head Coach John Pohl. “After that Grace played amazing.”

Hill-Murray only needed two shots to get the scoring started when Junior Ella Hornung scored her sixth of the season on a rebound shot from Chloe Boreen. Boreen powered her way into scoring position and a wraparound attempt when right on the stick of Hornung. 

The Pioneers added another goal just a couple minutes later when Jaycee Chatelain found herself right in front of Andover goalie Clairebella Hills to make it 2-0 in the first period. The Pioneers controlled the tempo in the opening period, leading in shots 9-6. 

Andover was able to get on the board in the late parts of the second period, getting a goal from their star forward Mackenzie Jones, finding some momentum getting back within one goal. The Huskies dominated the middle frame but Andover was met with a wall in net. Jori Jones Award Finalist Zhan was locked in after allowing the goal, denying 20 Andover shots. The Pioneers fed off of Zhan’s dominance and helped her by getting the cushion lead back. With 4:14 remaining in the frame, Jaycee Chatelain fed Elliana Engelhardt wide open in the slot to get their two goal lead back. The Pioneers were outshot 21-3 but thanks to Zhan and Engelhardt, led 3-1 after two. 

Jaycee Chatleain was all smiles after she gave a pass to teammate Elliana Engelhardt, who buried it for the Pioneers on their way to a 3-1 win over Andover to advance to the state title game.

The Huskies got the break they needed, getting a power play with under eight minutes to go in the game. Mackenzie Jones and Andover peppered Zhan and the Pioneers with shots, but both the Hill-Murray star net minder and their stellar defense stopped a number of chances and killed off the penalty. 

Jones, who scored the Huskies lone goal, continued to work her way into the Pioneers zone and getting quality looks, but were all turned away by Zhan and many of her shots forms he point were blocked by Hill-Murray defenders. 

By the game’s end Andover had attempted 88 shots to Hill-Murray’s 32. Just 37 of those shots made it to Zhan, a testament to the Pioneers defense and their willingness to sacrifice themselves. Zhan put on a clinic stopping 36 of 37 and the Pioneers recorded 23 blocked shots in front of her.

Andover Head Coach Melissa Volk said she was proud of how the girls played.

“The first period (Hill-Murray) had a couple good rushes and they executed on the chances they had,” she said. “I am super proud of how the girls battled in the second and third. We just didn’t have that puck luck.”

The Pioneers will face an Edina team Saturday at 7 p.m. Andover will face Minnetonka at 1 p.m. for third place.

The Pioneers last championship was in 2015 when they won back-to-back titles. They own two state titles. Edina’s last state title was in 2021 and are owners of four state championships.