Moorhead Defeats Bemidji to Head to State Boys Hockey TourneyMoorhead scored in the first three minutes and the last 23 seconds Wednesday night, and in between kept Bemidji’s offense at bay at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. As a reward the Spuds captured the Section 8AA boys hockey championship and a trip to next week’s state tournament.
By: Pat Miller, Bemidji Pioneer
Moorhead scored in the first three minutes and the last 23 seconds Wednesday night, and in between kept Bemidji’s offense at bay at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. As a reward the Spuds captured the Section 8AA boys hockey championship and a trip to next week’s state tournament.
Logan Ness beat Bemidji goalie Jeremiah Graves with a perfect shot on the glove side 2:48 into the action to give the Spuds a lead they would not relinquish. Behind the shutout goaltending of junior Michael Bitzer and a relentless defense the Spuds maintained the lead and eventually iced the victory with Brendan Johnson’s empty-net goal.
During the regular season Bemidji and Moorhead battled to a pair of draws. The teams tied 1-1 in early January at Moorhead and 2-2 Feb. 8 in Bemidji. Wednesday night Spuds coach Dave Morinville expected a game similar to its predecessors.
“I knew it would be close,” Morinville said. “Moorhead and Bemidji are similar teams. Bemidji had a great season and I knew we had to play a great game to beat them.”
Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo also wasn’t surprised that Wednesday’s game went down to the wire. He was, however, expecting the Lumberjacks to beat Bitzer at least a few times.
“I thought we would get a least a couple of goals because we’ve been averaging about five a game,” Chiodo said. “Bemidji and Moorhead are so evenly matched that we knew the game would be like this.”
Both teams were on their game in the opening period and only stellar work by each goalie kept the score low.
Graves finished with seven saves in the opening period, including a denial of Ben Doda who had two open cracks at the net from just outside the crease midway through the stanza.
Early in the game Graves also got the better of Eric Brenk and Simon Selberg who worked a perfect 2-on-1. Brenk eventually rifled a shot from the left circle but Graves was in position to make the save.
Bitzer was equally stingy in the Moorhead net as the junior stopped all nine Lumberjacks shots. BHS manufactured numerous quality chances but Bitzer stood his ground each time.
Bemidji did beat Bitzer six minutes into the action but Steven Heller’s wrister from the right circle clanked off the left post and Moorhead was able to clear.
“When the shot went off the post I knew we were going to stay in the game,” Bitzer said. “It was a turning point in the game.”
The Spuds notched the only goal of the stanza at 2:48 when Ness took a feed from Bryant Christian at the right circle and zipped a wrister over Graves’ glove.
“Getting that first goal was key because the teams are so evenly matched,” Morirnville said.
Moorhead dominated the play for most of the middle period but Graves was equal to the test and the Lumberjacks escaped unscathed.
“We were caught shorthanded (Wednesday) because of injuries,” Chiodo said. “We lost John Forseth to a concussion in the first period, Eric Hernesman to a knee injury in the second period and James Bofferding to a shoulder injury in the third period.
“When you play together all year and you have to shake things up in a game as important as this, it takes a while to adjust. I think that is why we struggled in the second period.”
The Jacks, however, played Moorhead on even terms on the scoreboard and in the final 20 seconds of the session Graves was at his best as the Spuds manufactured a 2-on-0 break from center ice.
Tony Uglem grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone and headed into Bemidji territory along with Nicholas Uglem.
When Tony reached the top of the right circle he rifled a pass to Nicholas who was all alone on Graves. Nicholas went to the backhand looking for the upper right corner but Graves lifted his blocker and redirected the puck over the net.
Bemidji was on its heels for all but the final five minutes of the period. Outshot 11-4 in the stanza the Jacks struggled to gain any momentum. With 4:24 to play BHS had two quality opportunities to beat Bitzer but Max Hazelton’s shot from the left circle sailed just wide and Bitzer made the stop of Steven Heller’s blast from the right circle.
The play became physical in the third period as neither team backed away from a challenge. The officials called a pair of offsetting penalties in the stanza to maintain control of the game and make sure that hockey was the only thing on the minds of the players.
BHS had a goal waved off with 2:24 to play when Hazelton gloved a high puck and threw it in the net and that play, although not rewarded with a goal, energized the Bemidji fans and the players.
With 2:03 remaining Chiodo pulled Graves and the rest of the game was spent in the Moorhead zone. Bitzer and the defense, however, did not flinch and their work set the table for Johnson’s clincher.
“The defense kept the guys to the outside and the forwards backchecked very well,” Bitzer said. “They made my job a lot easier.” Moorhead will take an 18-7-2 record into the state tournament. Bemidji ended its winter 23-3-2.
Moorhead 1 0 1 – 2
Bemidji 0 0 0 – 0
First period: 1. M, Ness (Christian, Johnson) 2:48.
Second period: No scoring.
Third period: 2. M, Johnson (unassisted) 16:37 (en).
Penalties: Moorhead 6 for 12 minutes; Bemidji 6 for 12 minutes
Saves: Bitzer (M) 9-4-5-18; Graves (B) 7-11-6-24