The most remarkable line from the scoresheet of Friday’s second Class 1A girls state hockey semifinal game read like this: “2nd 05:32 REDW EV Fairbanks, Cori.”
That line of code described the period, time and even-strength status of a goal scored by Red Wing’s Cori Fairbanks during the Wingers’ 8-4 loss to top-seeded Breck. But it said much more than that, because of where Fairbanks had come from.
Two years ago, in the third game of the regular season and the Wingers’ home opener, the sophomore was tripped and went into the boards head-first. She broke the C6 and C7 vertebrae in her neck, as well as several ribs. It was bad. Early on, there were fears that she might be paralyzed.
“It was really scary,” she told me Friday at Xcel Energy Center. “No one knew what was going to happen, we didn’t know the outcome of it.”
Thankfully, she recovered but for a time her future in hockey was uncertain. You can’t blame a young player for being scared after experiencing something like that, and when Cori – now a senior – was cleared to play a year after being injured, she had second thoughts.
“I didn’t think I wanted to play again,” she said. “I was scared. My teammates talked me into it. I didn’t want it to happen again. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, how it happened. But it still made me nervous, and my family was nervous, too.”
Red Wing coach Scott Haley said, “I give her a ton of credit. She loves this team, and her family and everyone has been really supportive.”
When Benilde-St. Margaret’s player Jack Jablonski was paralyzed during a hockey game this season, it brought back lots of memories for Cori. She posted a message on Jack’s CaringBridge website; “I told him that it happens to people all the time and he can get through it,” she said.
Cori rejoined the team halfway through last season, a season which ended with the Wingers getting to the state tournament . They lost to Eveleth-Gilbert in the quarterfinals before winning two games and finishing fifth. She scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 5-4 fifth-place victory over Hutchinson at Ridder Arena.
“It’s just been tremendous,” Haley said. “Last year I credited her for being the reason we made it to the state tournament. This year she’s just been a rock. She’s my captain and she’s the captain that I have do all my dirty work. She lives across the street, too, so she has double-duty with me at the rink.”
Cori’s goal Friday at Xcel Energy Center drew Red Wing within 5-3 of Breck.
“It was amazing,” she said of the feeling. “Even though we were down, I felt like that was the point where I thought we could come back up.”
The Winger were unable to do so. But in the long run, Cori sure came back.
“Here’s the thing with Cori,” Haley said. “Any time she does something, we’re happy. Because she’s that kind of kid. Those are the kids who are special to you.”
--The scoring star of the tournament so far is Breck junior Kate Schipper. She had a hat trick in the quarterfinals against Chisago Lakes and scored four goals against Red Wing.
IN OTHER GAMES
--South St. Paul defeated two-time defending state champ Warroad in the other Class 1A semifinal. Emily Reibert scored twice for the Packers, who will meet Breck in the title game at noon Saturday. One of the day’s young stars was South St. Paul freshman goaltender Sydney Conley, who made 17 saves.
----In the 2A semifinals, Roseville and Minnetonka advanced to Saturday’s title game.
Roseville defeated Edina 4-1 with Kate Flug scoring two goals, just as she did in Friday’s quarterfinals vs. Grand Rapids/Greenway. Erika Allen made 18 saves for Roseville and Edina goalie Maddie Dahl had 20 stops.
In the final game of the day, there was no scoring until the final minutes of regulation and Minnetonka defeated Lakeville North 2-1 in overtime. Freshman Riley Tousignant broke the scoreless tie for Lakeville North with 3:57 to play in regulation and Sidney Morin tied it for the Skippers with 20 seconds to go. In overtime, the winning goal was scored by Amy Petersen with 1:39 left in the eight-minute period.
I was on a lot of various sports beats during my days as a newspaper reporter. One of the best jobs was covering the Gophers men’s hockey team when Doug Woog was the coach. I have fond memories of spending time with Woog, so I smiled Friday when I heard one of the South St. Paul players say, “Wooger!”
I was inside the room where the media interviews coaches and players after games. The Woog Alert – Doug is a South St. Paul native -- was sounded in the corridor, where a few Packers were waiting for their postgame interrogation. I slipped out of the interview room, shook hands with the coach and told him how great it was to see him. He said he'd be back for Saturday's title game.
I was standing one step behind the Breck bench, shooting a few photos, as the Mustangs and Wingers were being introduced by public-address legend Dave Wright. Breck coach Chris Peterson said to me, “I love being in games when Dave Wright is doing the PA!”
--The day’s best band moment: The musicians from South St. Paul playing the Chicken Dance and the student section dancing along.
--The day’s best mascot: The Mustang from Breck.
--Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 11 for the tournament, 11 for the winter tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 297
*Miles John has driven: 6,397
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