As soon as the season began, West Fargo United hockey coach Pat Johnson knew the biggest obstacle that would prevent his team from competing for a state championship.
"Our numbers will be our weakness," he said back in November.
That proved to be a prescient prediction.
After grinding out a 2-1 win over Grand Forks in the state opener last Thursday, United ran out of gas against top-seeded Fargo North South in Friday's semifinals.
Despite being outshot 30-12 through two periods, West Fargo still found itself within striking distance going into the third period.
After a 32-save performance against Grand Forks, goalie Brooklyn Myrvik denied 28 shots through 34 minutes against North-South. And after falling in a 2-0 hole less than eight minutes in, West Fargo had climbed within 2-1 on a Madison Hjelden goal in the first period, and held that deficit all the way until the closing minutes.
But the superior depth of North-South, which finished the game with a 47-16 shot advantage, eventually won out. Against a gassed United defense, Abby Promersberger, the state's top scorer, found the back of net twice in the final 3:30 to secure a 4-1 win against a United offense that couldn't muster a solid response.
"The girls fight and they fought hard. We're just a little short-handed," Johnson said after Friday's game. "We kind of got tired and ran out of gas at the end."
It was a similar story in Saturday's third-place game, where Fargo Davies held a 38-15 shot edge in a 3-1 win over West Fargo.
The losses were a disappointing end for a strong senior group, highlighted by goalie Myrvik and top offensive weapons Hjelden (27 goals, 13 assists) and Kaycee Herring (16, 17), who ranked sixth and 10th in the state respectively in scoring. All three players were selected to the All-East Region team this season.
"I was hoping to make it to the state championship this year," Hjelden said. "From the beginning it was going to be hard to get there. But I'm proud of my team and how far we've come."
Johnson too was disappointed with the outcome, but credited his team for consistently fighting through the challenge of competing against teams with much greater firepower.
"This is what we've got and we're going to fight to the end," he said. "They played their hearts out and that's all we can ask."