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Spuds battle past Warriors

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 01/10/12, 11:07PM CST


Despite being outshot, No. 8AA Moorhead hangs loss on visiting Brainerd

Jared Stearns (30) made 17 saves in net for Brainerd including a stop on Thomas Carey (27) in the first period. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.

Brainerd senior Matt Pohlkamp (11) recently committed to Bowling Green.

Matt Pohlkamp earned his Warrior nickname Tuesday night.

As his Brainerd teammates trudged out of the locker room and loaded up the bus following a disappointing 4-1 loss at No. 8AA Moorhead, Pohlkamp was in the trainer’s room getting his battered face stitched up. He’d taken a stick up and under his facemask while delivering a thundering check in open ice on a Moorhead power play. The blow not only knocked the Spuds’ forward off the puck, but also split the senior forward’s chin open.

But it didn’t knock him from the game. In fact, he didn’t miss a shift.

Pohlkamp and the Warriors continued to battle -- outshooting Moorhead 18-5 in the third period – but couldn’t dent the Spuds’ lead.

After a few minutes in the training room, Pohlkamp emerged with a newly bandaged chin and a lower lip and jaw numb from painkiller. Despite the injury – and the defeat – he still wanted to talk about the Warriors’ efforts.

“Moorhead’s not the only team in the section right now,” said Pohlkamp. “We wanted to beat them so badly. We looked forward to this game all year long. It’s the biggest game out there.”

It was a tough loss for the Warriors (11-3-0), who as Pohlkamp noted had hoped to make a statement in the Section 8AA race with a victory. But anyone who saw the game knows the message was delivered anyway.

“We proved to ourselves that we could play with them,” said Brainerd coach Jim Archibald. “If we keep going the way we are, down the road we’re going to be tough.”

“We hoped to walk out of here with a win. We didn’t,” continued Archibald. “But we take the positives, we take the negatives, and we go back to work.”

One of the positives this season has been the play of the rugged Pohlkamp.

On Tuesday night, the senior forward finished with an assist on the lone goal, a first-period power play tally that gave Brainerd a 1-0 lead. He also posted a team-best seven shots on goal. Pohlkamp is also on track to become the leading scorer in Brainerd hockey history. He entered his senior season with 63 goals and 53 assists for 116 points in 79 games. With an assist Tuesday night, he now is up to 151 career points, just 23 points shy of the current record held by J.P. Platisha.

“He’s a big strong kid who skates very well and shoots the puck very well,” said Archibald. “Physically, he’s (a D1 player).”

Archibald isn’t the only coach to notice that fact. In late November, Pohlkamp became the latest in a string of Warriors to accept D1 scholarships, as he gave a verbal commitment to attend Bowling Green, where former Warriors’ coach Ty Eigner is an assistant. Eigner alerted his brethren to Pohlkamp following a terrific performance in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League.

“He’s worked really hard – both during the season and in the offseason – to put himself in a position to go play D1 college,” said Archibald, who knows something about high-level college hockey as a former star at the University of North Dakota. “That’s a lot of kids’ dreams and what they hope for.”

Pohlkamp and the Falcons are undecided about his immediate future, whether he’ll immediately jump into the lineup or play a year of juniors first. The Falcons will join the new-look WCHA in the 2013-14 season.

As Archibald stated, Pohlkamp looks physically ready for the leap in competition. He’s a rock-solid 210 pounds and punishes opponents with his body – something to be expected from a senior who would have been the Warriors’ leading returning rusher and football captain had he not chosen to take the fall off to focus on hockey.

“The football guys weren’t too happy about it,” said Pohlkamp, whose former football teammates fell in the Section 8AAAAA final to many of the same Moorhead players he faced off against Tuesday night. “But it was a good deal. It was worth it.”

Moorhead's Terry Leabo (6) upends Brainerd's Cole Smith (16) during a physical 4-1 Spuds' victory.

Quick hits

Spuds hang on to key 8AA victory
Even though outshot 35-21 by Brainerd, Moorhead made its efforts count in an important 4-1 Section 8AA victory. Spuds’ coach Dave Morinville noted Brainerd’s toughness and skill and said his team somehow “found a way to win,” despite being outplayed by the Warriors for long stretches of the game.

“I think some of our guys were still licking their wounds from this last weekend,” said Morinville, whose team lost to No. 1AA Duluth East and No. 2AA Minnetonka on back-to-back days. “We were very herky jerky (last weekend) and tonight we were the same way.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Spuds, either, as they host No. 1A Breck Saturday night at the Moorhead Sports Center.

Split up lines

Brainerd threw a different look at Moorhead for the key Section 8AA battle, as Warriors’ coach Jim Archibald mixed up his lines.

“We’ve tried to balance our lines a little bit,” said Archibald, who admitted that his team had been relying on its top line of Mitch McLain, Matt Pohlkamp and Aaron Rich to do much of the scoring. That trio has 51 of the team’s 78 goals through 14 games.

“We know down the road against good teams, if they shut that line down, you’re going to have problems,” said Archibald, who is looking for three solid lines that can be a threat any time they step on the ice.

Archibald shifted sophomores Logan Rivard and Cole Smith – who netted the only goal for Brainerd – up to a line with McLain and put Rich and Pohlkamp on a line with junior Reno Fussy.

“We have some young guys that have the skill,” said Archibald. “Sometimes they sit back and watch. I think it’s a confidence thing for them. Once they build a little confidence and realize that they have the capabilities to play at this level and they’re as good as the next guy that they line up against, we’ll be fine.”

 Penalty kill keys

Clinging to a slim lead in the third period, Moorhead killed off a 51-second, 5-on-3 advantage and then stopped Brainerd again on a 6-on-4 over the final 1 minute, 48 seconds. The Spuds relied on unusual forechecking pressure from senior forward Bryant Christian and solid defense from Terry Leabo and Jacob Uglem in front of goaltender Michael Bitzer.

Instead of laying back and letting the Warriors set up their power play, Christian used his speed to pressure Brainerd with an aggressive forecheck. It forced a few bad passes – the final one he converted into an open net goal with eight seconds remaining. Moorhead coach Dave Morinville admitted that sometimes it’s easy to take Christian’s hustle for granted, as well as the solid play of Leabo and Uglem at clearing Brainerd forwards from the slot.

Their play allowed Bitzer to get clear shooting lanes and he was in position to make 34 of 35 saves.

“He was able to see the puck, which was a good thing,” said Morinville. “And if he is able to see the puck, he can usually stop it.”

Brainerd coach Jim Archibald instructs his team during a 4-1 loss at Moorhead Tuesday night.

Game recap

Michael Bitzer stopped 34 of 35 shots as No. 8AA Moorhead edged Brainerd, 4-1 at the Moorhead Sports Center Tuesday, Jan. 10. The Spuds (10-3-0) were outshot 35-21 by the Warriors (11-3-0), including 18-5 in the third period, but held on for the important Section 8AA victory.

Nicholas Uglem had a goal and an assist for Moorhead, which trailed 1-0 after one period on a goal from sophomore Cole Smith.

Brainerd coach Jim Archibald juggled his lineup to split up his offensive firepower. Smith was playing on the Warriors' first line along with fellow sophomore Logan Rivard and senior Matt Pohlkamp, who recently committed to Bowling Green. Seniors Aaron Rich and Mitch McLain were on a line with junior Reno Fussy. The combinations worked, as the Warriors pressured Bitzer all night long.

Moorhead rallied in the second period, tying the game midway through the frame on a power play tally from Tony Uglem. Zach Quaife gave the Spuds the lead for good with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the second, banging in a pass from Jesse Doschadis.

Despite the 18-5 shot deficit in the third, Moorhead scored twice more on a Nicholas Uglem wrister and an empty netter from Bryant Christian. The Spuds also killed off 51 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage and a 6-on-4 for the final 1 minute, 48 seconds of the game.

Jared Stearns made 17 saves on 20 shots before sitting out the final 2 minutes, 33 seconds as Archibald pulled him for an extra attacker.

1. Bryant Christian, Moorhead
Christian was a whirling dervish on the penalty kill in the third period as the Spuds clung to a slim lead. The speedy senior first helped Moorhead kill off a 5-on-3 for 51 seconds early in the third by putting intense pressure on the forecheck. Then he ragged the puck on a 6-on-4 kill in the final minute, eventually snagging a loose puck for a well-deserved empty net goal. Christian was aggressive and quick all night long.

2. Michael Bitzer, Moorhead
With Brainerd pressuring in the third period, the Spuds asked their senior goaltender to come up big -- and he did. Bitzer stopped all 18 shots he faced in the third period, including many during a pair of two-man advantages, and made 34 of 35 saves in the game. Showed a good glove and didn't allow many rebounds at all.

3. Mitchell McLain, Brainerd
Although he was held off the scoreboard, McLain had several golden scoring opportunities that just went awry. The big senior forward was a physical presence all game long, but also showed nifty feet and good puckhandling skills.

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