Willmar WarHawks made a dramatic return to playoff hockey Thursday night traveling to Sauk Rapids for Game 1 against the Granite City Lumberjacks. Powered by a three-goal first period, Willmar held off the host team to win 4-3.
Ethan Light opened scoring at the 7:21 mark of the first to give the WarHawks an early advantage. Goals by Isaiah Thomas and Alex Kupka had the visitors up 3-0 by intermission.
A confident group hit the ice in the second and just :52 into the frame Gavin Uckele scored to make the score 4-0.
Granite City would not lay down despite the deficit, finally getting one past WarHawks goaltender Lukas Haugen at 12:14 of the second. Willmar showed poise though and outshot the Lumberjacks 11-7 in the period to take a 4-1 lead into the third.
Ben Anderson would score at 1:33 to give Granite City the early goal – and momentum – they desired.
Pressure from the Jacks came in waves the remainder of the period as Granite City put 19 shots on net. The WarHawks withstood the onslaught though until the final minutes when the goaltender was pulled for an extra attacker.
Tal Halliday made it 4-3 with 2:49 remaining in regulation and the Lumberjacks again pulled their goalie, seeking the tying goal. It would not come though as the Willmar defense and Haugen held them off.
With a win in-hand, the WarHawks return to Willmar for Game 2 of the best-of three series on Friday. Game time is scheduled for 6:10 PM. Tickets can be purchased online.