Aaron Herdt (8) avoids a check by Bemidji's Brett Isensee in the Spuds' 5-1 Section 8AA victory Saturday night. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
When the playoff stage was set, Moorhead showed why it's often been the star of the show in northwestern Minnesota.
The top-seeded Spuds (13-11-2) rolled past fourth-seeded Bemidji (8-17-2) in the Section 8AA semifinals, 5-1 at the Moorhead Sports Center Saturday, Feb. 23. Senior Nick Uglem returned from injury to tally two goals and the Spuds moved a step closer to their 14th section title in 22 years with a surprisingly easy victory.
The game was a significant departure from most Moorhead-Bemidji head-to-head battles recently.
Since Bemidji took a 3-2 victory at home against Moorhead on Jan. 13, 2009, the Spuds have gone 7-0-3 in 10 games against the Lumberjacks. Included in those 10 games are five overtime games and seven decided by a goal or fewer.
That's what makes Saturday's four-goal victory such a surprise. It is the biggest margin of victory in the series since the Spuds' 7-1 victory on Dec. 11, 2008.
"They were quick, they were fast, and they were all over us," Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo said. "Bottom line is they played hard and capitalized on their opportunities."
Moorhead coach Pete Cullen admitted his team has had an up-and-down season, playing well for a period or two at a time, but rarely putting a complete game together. He had no such worries Saturday night, especially after asking a simple question during the second intermission.
"I asked them, 'What's working for us?' " Cullen said. "They answered the question (verbally) and then they answered it out on the ice."
Leading 3-1 entering the third period, the Spuds certainly looked like a team that had all the answers.
Moorhead's Austin Skjefte score his fourth goal of the year 1 minute, 19 seconds into the third period to bump the lead to 4-1.The junior forward entered the zone, dropped the puck back to teammate Alex Mehnert on the point and then crashed the net hard. Mehnert's return pass hit Skjefte right on the tape and he one-timed it past Bemidji goaltender Gabe Heifort.
"Coach said, just move your feet and it'll get the job done," said Skjefte, shaking his head and smiling. "We just got the job done."
Before the Lumerjacks could respond, the game was essentially out of reach. Eleven seconds after Skjefte's goal, Uglem ripped in his second goal of the game to push the lead to 5-1. Spuds' fans were whipped into a frenzy and forced Chiodo to call timeout in an attempt to regroup his team.
"We knew we had more in the tank, so we just all stepped up and stepped on the throttle and just kept it going," said defenseman Eric Barker, who scored his first goal of the season late in the first period that made the score 2-0.
"Some of the things we were preaching in practice, they finally continued that into tonight's game," said Cullen, who felt it was one of his team's best games of the season.
As much as the third-period outburst hurt the Lumberjacks, Chiodo felt the true backbreaking goal came in the second period after Matt Serratore had cut the lead to 2-1. With Bemidji pressuring at the end of a shift, the Lumberjacks got caught in a bad line change. Mehnert spotted Tony Uglem cruising the Bemidji blue line and hit him with a long pass, which Uglem quickly redirected to his twin brother Nick crossing the slot. Nick took a moment while Heifort dropped into a butterfly and ripped the puck over his shoulder to regain a two-goal lead.
"We had a full line change and everybody decided to come off the ice at once," said Chiodo. "They found a way to score."
Thomas Carey also scored for the Spuds, while Mehnert and Aaron Herdt each had two assists. Heifort made 32 saves for the Lumberjacks and Jacob Dittmer had 17 saves for Moorhead.
With the victory, Moorhead advances to the Section 8AA final against No. 2 Brainerd Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the National Sports Center in St. Cloud. The two teams split this season, each winning on the other's home ice.
"What we did tonight works for us and if they want to go on after Wednesday, they have to do the exact same thing," said Cullen. "Bring the speed."
Barker agreed. "We still have to go take care of business."
Moorhead goaltender Jacob Dittmer stopped 17 of 18 shots against Bemidji. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo talks about his team's 5-1 Section 8AA loss to Moorhead and the season in general.
Moorhead coach Pete Cullen and players Eric Barker and Austin Skjefte talk about their team's 5-1 victory over No. 4 Bemidji in the Section 8AA semifinals.
Senior Nick Uglem scored twice as top-seeded Moorhead rolled into the Section 8AA finals with a 5-1 victory over fourth-seeded Bemidji Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Moorhead Sports Center.
The game was a departure from most recent meetings between the two programs, as five of the last nine have gone to overtime and seven have been decided by a goal or fewer. But with Saturday's victory, Moorhead (13-11-2) is now 7-0-3 against Bemidji (8-17-2) since January of 2009.
Thomas Carey and Eric Barker scored in the first period for Moorhead. Barker's goal late in the first period was his first of the season. Matt Serratore's goal in the second period cut the lead to 2-1, but Uglem sneaked behind the Lumberjacks' defense on a bad line change and regained the Spuds' two-goal lead entering the third.
Moorhead's Austin Skjefte tallied 1:19 into the third and Uglem scored again 11 seconds later to put the game out of reach.
Gabe Heifort made 32 saves for Bemidji, while Jacob Dittmer had 17 saves for the Spuds. Moorhead will play No. 2 Brainerd in the section final Wednesday, Feb. 27. The Warriors defeated Roseau 3-2 in the other 8AA semifinal.
1. Nick Uglem, Moorhead
Uglem left the Spuds' quarterfinal victory over River Lakes early with a wrist injury, but he threw the knockout punch Saturday night against Bemidji, scoring two goals and adding an assist. After Bemidji's Matt Serratore scored to cut Moorhead's lead to 2-1 in the second period, Uglem got behind the defense on a bad line change and regained a two-goal lead for the Spuds. He also followed teammate Austin Skjefte's third-period goal with another tally 11 seconds later.
2. Eric Barker, Moorhead
Barker picked a good time to notch his first goal of the year, scoring on a rising snapshot from the blue line late in the first period. He also made the defensive play of the night, shutting down Bemidji's Matt Serratore on what looked to be a sure breakaway just minutes after Serratore had cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period.
3. Matt Serratore, Bemidji
The Lumberjacks' senior was the team's primary offensive threat, notching the lone goal early in the second period and getting numerous other good looks. Serratore played his usual aggressive and feisty game in his final appearance in a Lumberjacks' uniform.