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No holding back Skippers

01/06/2012, 8:00pm CST
By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Four-goal third period rallies No. 3-ranked Minnetonka past No. 7 Moorhead


Sam Rothstein (23) buries Minnetonka's first goal off a pass from Max Coatta. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen


Jared Ridge (26) looks for a teammate during Minnetonka's 5-3 victory at Moorhead.

Jared Ridge doesn’t mind all the hype.

Not about his line, mind you. No, the third line of the third-ranked Minnetonka Skippers rarely gets the spotlight. Scouts don’t whisper among themselves when the trio hits the ice. Fans don’t stop conversations to watch them play.

That attention is reserved for Minnetonka’s top two lines. A high-powered top two that includes University of Minnesota recruit Vinni Lettieri, sniper Max Coatta, slippery Connor Thie, two-way stud Erik Baskin, skilled Sam Rothtein and the son of hockey royalty, Jack Ramsey.

Ridge understands all that. He even embraces it along with linemates Justin Bader and Phil Katopodis. The trio hits the ice in anonymity most nights, as Minnetonka’s showy top two lines get most of the press.

But that suits them just fine.

“It’s all the talk about the other two lines, so there’s a little pressure taken off of us,” said Ridge after the Skippers’ third line scored twice in the third period of a 5-3 victory over No. 7AA Moorhead Friday night, Jan. 6. “We just have to go out there and do our best.”

And sometimes their best is pretty good.

Through two periods Friday night, Moorhead had bottled up the Skippers’ top two lines. The Spuds led 2-1 and were playing an effective defensive game. Then the spotlight shifted onto the third line.

“They kind of set the tone and got everybody going,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said.

Just 37 seconds into the third period, Ridge and Bader completed a crisp passing play that ended up on the stick of charging defenseman Jimmy Schuldt. Schuldt buried the tying goal through the pads of Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer – and a new game was on. After goals by Coatta and Lettieri gave Minnetonka the lead, Ridge capped the scoring with a one-handed tip of a pass from Katopodis over Bitzer’s shoulder.

“Bader and Phil were working hard to get that puck to the net,” said Ridge, who called Katopodis a great passer and Bader a tough, hard-working player. “I just try to get open. My game is just to work hard and give 100 percent every game. If my legs keep moving and keep working, I’m playing well.”

Urick has been impressed with his third line for the past month, noting the aggressiveness and speed of the line.

“They’re relentless forecheckers,” Urick said. “They take time and space away and hope for turnovers and get pucks to the net. It’s kind of sloppy, ugly hockey but they do it well.”

It was exactly the kind of hockey needed to win against Moorhead, a team that plays a similar style. The Spuds don’t roll a red carpet out in the slot. Goals are scored in a much less glamorous way. It was a blue-collar, lunch-pail game.

Ridge and his linemates know that game. And they embrace it.

“They just want to win,” said Urick. “They’re team guys and they do what’s asked of them."

Quick hits


Minnetonka goaltender Matt Behounek made 26 saves in the victory over Moorhead.

Quck hits

Minnetonka's Behounek stars in goal

Skippers’ senior goaltender Matt Behounek got the nod in goal against Moorhead and certainly made his coach look good. Behounek made 26 saves on 29 shots and came up big on several key turnovers in the second period with Minnetonka trailing by a goal.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said junior Jared Ridge, who helped spur a third-period rally. “We (gave up) a lot of odd-man rushes with those turnovers and Matt really kept us in the game and allowed us to win.”

“He made some big saves,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. “That’s what you expect from a senior goalie.”

Third period turnaround

Urick felt his first intermission planning went for naught. Trailing 2-1 at Moorhead after two periods, he went back into the locker room to make his point a bit more sternly.

“It was a lot of the same as what I said between the first and second, but I said it with a little more authority,” laughed Urick, who wanted his team to eliminate neutral zone turnovers and get the puck deep.

“(Coach) got on us pretty hard,” laughed junior Jared Ridge after the game. “We went back to doing what we do right, chipping it deep and getting the puck to the net and scoring goals.”

Statistics, summary

Game recap

Minnetonka's quick-strike offense bombarded host Moorhead with four third-period goals to earn a 5-3 victory Friday, Jan. 6 at the Moorhead Sports Center. Trailing 2-1 entering the third, the third-ranked Skippers (12-1-0) scored four times in a span of 7 minutes, 7 seconds to surge past the seventh-ranked Spuds (9-2-0).

Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt started the rally by jumping up into the play and slipping a shot through the five-hole on Spuds' goaltender Michael Bitzer just 37 seconds into the third. Max Coatta followed with a back-door power play tally at 4 minutes, 44 seconds to give the Skippers the lead for good. Vinni Lettieri and Jared Ridge capped the scoring for Minnetonka with goals 32 seconds apart midway through the third.

Logan Ness and Jesse Doschadis gave Moorhead a 2-1 lead after two periods as the Spuds seemed primed for the upset. Moorhead had been getting the puck deep on the forecheck and limiting its neutral zone turnovers -- until Minnetonka's third-period outburst.

Minnetonka outshot the Spuds by a slim 31-29 margin, with senior goaltender Matt Behounek making 26 saves. Michael Bitzer had 26 stops in goal for Moorhead.

Coatta finished with a goal and two assists, while Lettieri and Ridge each had a goal and an assist. Bryant Christian and Ness each had a goal and an assist for Moorhead, which now travels to take on No. 1AA Duluth East on Saturday night, Jan. 7.

1. Max Coatta, Minnetonka
The crafty junior was involved in three of the Skippers' goals, netting a goal and two assists. Coatta appeared to have super glue on his stick on the first Minnetonka goal, holding the puck through a check, a fake on Spuds' goalie Michael Bitzer, and somehow finding a way to slip the puck through a tight space to Sam Rothstein all alone in the slot. He also scored the Skippers' third goal on a back door pass from Vinni Lettieri, then assisted on Lettieri's game-winner a few minutes later.

2. Matt Behounek, Minnetonka
Moorhead figured to have the advantage in goal, but it was Behounek who stood tall through the first two periods to keep the Skippers from trailing by more than one goal. He had great positioning, allowing shots through screens to hit his body. When the Spuds' tried to pick the corners, they missed wide. Behounek finished with 26 saves on 29 shots.

3. Jared Ridge, Minnetonka
The entire third line for Minnetonka came up with a big effort, but Ridge was the one who showed up most on the scoreboard with a goal and an assist. Often overlooked, the line of Ridge, Phil Katopodis and Justin Bader was responsible for two of the Skippers' four goals in the third-period rally.

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

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