Moorhead's Bryant Christian (11) celebrates his game-winning overtime goal with teammates Saturday at Bemidji. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
Cody Rahman (19) gets position in front of the Bemidji net just seconds before his game-tying goal.
Lately when Moorhead and Bemidji get together for a hockey game, it’s turned into a magic show for the Spuds. As in, how is Moorhead going to find a way to turn what looks like a sure defeat into a victory? Saturday afternoon at the Bemidji Community Arena, No. 7AA Moorhead again pulled a victory out of thin air in a 2-1 overtime decision over the Lumberjacks.
Senior captain Bryant Christian scored the game winner with just 1 minute, 10 seconds left in overtime on a disappearing puck trick.
Defenseman Ben Welle started the winning play with a pinpoint pass to teammate Logan Ness, who cut towards the slot and lost the puck off the end of his stick. It disappeared into a forest of legs and sticks – and a few seconds later somehow ended up behind Bemidji freshman goaltender Gabe Heifort.
The winning goal ricocheted more than a pellet gun fired into a stand of birch trees. And like the pellet, its final destination was unknowable.
“I started swinging at the puck and it went between the goalies legs and between the post and the pads,” said Christian, one of the few people in the building who actually saw the puck as it bounced its way through the maze of bodies.
As Christian raised his arms in triumph, the red goal light flashed on and the referee signaled for a goal. Bemidji players and coaches immediately argued that the puck never crossed the goal line. Meanwhile, Moorhead celebrated at center ice what appeared to be their second overtime victory over the Lumberjacks (14-10-0) this season.
“I knew it was in but I was a little wary when they went to the goal judge,” said Christian.
Referees called the goal judge over for a conference near the Bemidji player’s box. But after a hushed minute of discussion, the goal stood – and so did the victory for the Spuds (17-5-0). The win likely gives Moorhead the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 8AA playoffs, but it should be a tight battle between the Spuds and the other three potential top seeds: Bemidji, Brainerd and Roseau.
“We know this section is really close,” said Spuds’ coach Dave Morinville. “It’s going to be a dog fight. There’s no easy cakewalk to the state tournament.”
In both Bemidji losses to Moorhead this season, the ‘Jacks held a 1-0 lead late in the third period but couldn’t hold on.
Back on Dec. 8 in the third game of the year, Moorhead’s Tony Uglem scored in the final five minutes of regulation and Aaron Herdt won the game just 19 seconds into overtime.
Saturday, the Lumberjacks' Easton Halbert gave his team the lead at 14 minutes, 42 seconds of the first period. Halbert cut back across the grain on a 2-on-1 and fired a low wrister past Spuds' goaltender Michael Bitzer.
Bemidji's defense -- and the outstanding play of freshman goaltender Gabe Heifort -- made the one-goal lead stand up for 48-1/2 minutes. Heifort made 35 saves in the game as the 'Jacks were outshot 37-19. But with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, Moorhead's Cody Rahman tied the game on a rebound of a Zach Quaife shot, setting up Christian's game-winner.
“We just have to find a way to finish the game,” said Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo. “It’s a full three periods.”
Or even longer when these two teams get together. In the last two years, the Spuds are 3-0-2 against Bemidji, but the five games have been decided by a total of four goals and four have gone to overtime.
“We see each other so many times that I think we each know each other’s game better than we know our own game,” admitted Christian. “We know how to shut each other down offensively.”
Christian called the game a “playoff-type atmosphere” and wouldn’t be surprised if they meet again. Despite the tight game, the Spuds’ senior captain is confidence a week before the postseason begins. “Even when we don’t play our best, we find ways to win. That’s what championship and winning teams do each night.”
Bemidji freshman goaltender Gabe Heifort (35) made 35 saves in the overtime loss.
'Jacks can't solve stingy Spuds
In its last five games against Moorhead, Bemidji is winless (0-3-2) and has scored just five goals total. With four of those games going to overtime, the Lumberjacks have been in every one – but must find a way to get more scoring punch against the tough Spuds’ defense and goaltender Michael Bitzer.
“It’s been an up-and-down season for us with goal-scoring this season,” admitted Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo. “We’re getting opportunities, but it seems like we’re a inch outside the pipe or an inch off or the goalie comes up with a big save.
Freshman stands tall
Bemidji freshman goaltender Gabe Heifort nearly pulled off an upset victory for the Lumberjacks, making 35 saves on 37 shots against withering Moorhead offensive pressure. Hanging onto a slim 1-0 lead, Heifort faced a barrage of shots in the final five minutes of regulation before the Spuds' Cody Rahman tied it with just over two minutes left.
Heifort has started to earn more and more playing time in the last month, starting four of the last five games. Coach Wade Chiodo called his young netminder "very athletic" and it showed against Moorhead, as he made several key sprawling saves.
Even with the loss, Heifort is now 4-2-0 in six games with a .915 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average.
“We’ll get that bounce, I truly believe that, when it really counts.”
Thomas Carey (27) of Moorhead tries to pin Bemidji's Jordan Heller (9) against the boards.
Bryant Christian scored with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in overtime to give No. 7AA Moorhead a 2-1 victory over host Bemidji Saturday, Feb. 11 at the Bemidji Community Arena. The Spuds (17-5-0) swept the regular season series from the Lumberjacks (14-10-0), winning both meetings by a 2-1 score in overtime.
Both games were similar in more ways than their final score, as well. Bemidji held a 1-0 lead through most of both games before giving up a late goal to tie it -- then the game-winner in overtime. Saturday, the Lumberjacks' Easton Halbert gave his team the lead at 14 minutes, 42 seconds of the first period. Halbert cut back across the grain on a 2-on-1 and fired a low wrister past Spuds' goaltender Michael Bitzer.
Bemidji's defense -- and the outstanding play of freshman goaltender Gabe Heifort -- made the one-goal lead stand up for 48-1/2 minutes. Heifort made 35 saves in the game as the 'Jacks were outshot 37-19.
But with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, Moorhead's Cody Rahman tied the game on a rebound of a Zach Quaife shot, setting up Christian's game-winner.
Michael Bitzer made 18 saves for Moorhead, including several on Bemidji's leading scorer, John Forseth, who found himself alone in the crease on at least three occasions. Bitzer is one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award, given to the top senior goaltender in the state.
1. Gabe Heifort, Bemidji
It's not often the losing goaltender gets named the No. 1 star of the game, but it's just as infrequent that they put in an effort as Heifort did Saturday afternoon against No. 7AA Moorhead. The freshman wasn't overwhelmed by his first start against Moorhead -- and just his sixth overall. Heifort withstood everything the Spuds fired at him through the game's first 48-1/2 minutes. He ended up with the tough-luck loss as a bouncing puck eluded him in overtime, but Heifort made 35 saves and never seemed out of position.
2. Cody Rahman, Moorhead
Rahman breathed life back into the Spuds late in the third period, using his strength to score the game-tying goal with just 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining. While Battling with a 'Jacks' defenseman out front of Heifort, Rahman spun away from his defender and chipped a rebound into the net, sending the game to overtime.
3. Bryant Christian, Moorhead
It wasn't a perfect game for Christian and the Spuds, but the senior captain got the game-winner with only 1 minute, 10 seconds left in overtime. Linemate Logan Ness bounced a puck into the crease, it deflected off a few skates and shinpads until Christian took a swing at it and just managed to sneak it between Heifort's pads. The line -- which also includes sophomore Aaron Herdt -- also scored the game-winner in overtime in the teams' first meeting in Moorhead back on Dec. 8.