After Edina’s thrashing of Bloomington Jefferson in the Section 2AA final, the outlook for Moorhead in this weekend’s Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament appeared bleak once the pairings were announced.
But the Spuds, losers of eight straight games at one point this season, refused to let seedings or rankings decide their fate and registered a decisive 5-2 quarterfinal win over the much-ballyhooed Hornets on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
Moorhead woke from its mid-season funk in time to go 10-1-2 down the stretch but Spuds head coach Dave Morinville deflects all credit for the turnaround to his players.
“I couldn’t be prouder of them because, I tell you what, a lot of guys would have pulled the pin after losing eight games in a row,” said Morinville. “It was not fun being around, but they sucked it up and they stuck together. It was a team that realized they had to get it together. This is a close group of guys that worked really hard and had a lot of fun.”
The Spuds controlled much of the first period, jumping out to an early 10-2 shots-on-goal edge using a disciplined trapping defense to create scoring chances with its speed and transition game.
“There’s no question they outplayed us,” said Edina head coach Curt Giles. “I think Moorhead played extremely well and I give them all the credit in the world. I won’t take anything away from that team.”
This is not to say the Hornets did not threaten to score. Anders Lee picked off a Moorhead pass early in the period, drove down the right-wing boards, and cut hard to the net across the bottom of the right circle before putting his sharp-angle shot just over the crossbar.
Later on, the always-dangerous Marshall Everson found himself alone in front of the Spud net, but Moorhead goaltender Logan Marks stood his ground, swallowing up Everson’s point-blank shot at the 9:30 mark.
Nevertheless, it was Edina, the Class AA tournament’s top seed, which scored first. With Moorhead’s Jason Strand serving an interference penalty, Hornets defenseman Brendan Baker’s low wrist shot from the blue line found its way through a screen and between Marks’ pads the lead at 12:16.
But the Spuds, on a power play of their own, knotted the score only 47 seconds before the first intermission on Tyler Larson’s goal which trickled across the goal line before Edina goaltender Johnny Ankeny could fall on the puck.
“They’re a skilled team; they’ve got some great hockey player,” said Morinville. “But to our credit we battled, we didn’t back down. I think that was the key, we didn’t back down. We kept forcing the game and obviously it paid off.”
Although Edina came back to outshoot the Spuds in the second period, Marks was solid and, at times, brilliant making 12 saves to hold the Hornets scoreless while his teammates built a two-goal cushion.
Trent Johnson gave Moorhead its first lead at 5:05 of the second when he swiped the puck from a scrum below the goal line to Ankeny’s right, spun around to his left and whipped a shot past a stunned Hornet goaltender.
Just 51 seconds later, it was Alex Altenbernd completing a pretty passing play by burying Johnson’s backhand pass inside the right post to give the underdog Spuds a surprising 3-1 lead after two periods.
Early in the third, however, the Hornets received the break any team trailing in the final period needs. A tripping call on Moorhead’s Andrew Vandal just 3:35 into the period gave Edina the man-advantage for the third time in the game.
It took just 10 seconds for Baker to register his second power -play tally of the game; one-timing a Jake Heck pass to pull Edina within one. The goal lit a fire under Edina as the Hornets spent the next several minutes swarming the Moorhead zone.
But Marks and the Spuds withstood the onslaught long enough for Johnson to restore the two-goal advantage by batting Vandal’s pass out of mid-air past Ankeny at 11:46.
“We felt good about getting some energy back and getting some opportunities but, you know, it didn’t go our way,” said Giles.
Less than two minutes later, Larson stripped Heck of the puck in the right corner and headed straight for the net using his long reach to tuck the puck around the far side of Ankeny to seal it for the Spuds.
“We had a lot of bounces go our way but we worked hard for our bounces,” said Morinville. “We talked about if they’re going to beat us, beat us at our game and our game is just getting after them.”
Moorhead advances to face another unseeded opponent in the Raiders of Cretin-Derham Hall in Friday night’s late semifinal. The Raiders defeated Duluth East 5-2 to earn their spot in the semis.
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