Breckenridge/Wahpeton goaltender Wyatt Hedrick (1) stopped 42 shots, including this one by Fergus Falls' Devin Johnson (11). Johnson got loose for three goals later, leading the Otters to a 5-2 victory. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
Fergus Falls' coach Mike Donaghue discusses the rule book with referees during the Otters' 5-2 victory.
If Fat Tuesday is about celebrating excesses, Devin Johnson was the life of the party.
On Mardi Gras night, the Fergus Falls senior forward netted a hat trick -- capped by two very timely third-period goals -- as the third-seeded Otters edged sixth-seeded Breckenridge/Wahpeton, 5-2 in the Section 6A quarterfinals.
Johnson broke open a 2-all tie with a pair of goals just 50 seconds apart early in the third period. His outburst sent not the traditional strings of beads but stocking caps sailing to the ice in celebration.
“We knew we had something going and we felt pretty confident at that point,” admitted Johnson, whose hat trick was his first of the season.
“You need your seniors and captains to step up in playoff times,” said Fergus Falls’ coach Mike Donaghue. “It was an outstanding effort.”
It was also needed, as the free-wheeling Otters (13-11-1) had all they could handle with the Blades (16-6-0). Breckenridge/Wahpeton’s game plan was perfect – and totally opposite the Otters’ style.
Bang and grind.
Dump and chase.
Hit anything that moves.
“Our coaches had told us ahead of time that they’re a physical team and they work hard all around the ice,” said Johnson. “It takes a toll after a while and starts to wear you down.”
“They brought exactly what everyone said they were going to bring,” agreed Donaghue, whose team tried to counter with its speed.
Through 37 minutes the Blades’ had ground out a tie game, despite being outshot 47-19 in the contest. Coach Todd Dwyer had set up his hard-working team with a perfect game plan and he had the support of senior goaltender Wyatt Hedrick, who finished with 42 saves.
Just as it appeared the Blades were going to crash the Otters’ party, though, Johnson stepped up. He scored the game-winner on a shot from the high slot with 13 minutes, 43 seconds to play, then added a short-handed goal less than a minute later. As quickly as that, Breckenridge/Wahpeton had been tossed out of the celebration.
“We fell off the game plan a couple of times and they popped two in real quick,” shrugged Dwyer.
“They’re a fast team. They move the puck. They can shoot the puck. They’re quick.”
The hero on Mardi Gras night, Johnson had been on a scoring slump in recent weeks. He’d scored just two goals in the last nine games – a stretch in which the Otters were just 4-5-0 and scored just five goals in those five losses. But Donaghue said Johnson had great practices over the last few days and was happy to see it carry over into the game – as were Otters’ fans.
Cody Bronson (2) celebrates his first-period power play goal with Breckenridge/Wahpeton teammates.
With the victory Tuesday night, Fergus Falls moves on to the Section 6A semifinals against Willmar 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud. The seventh-seeded Cardinals upset No. 2 Alexandria in another Fat Tuesday quarterfinal.
It was just the latest shocking Section 6A upset over the past two years – a stretch which includes No. 9 St. Cloud Apollo beating No. 1 Little Falls last year and fifth-seeded Alexandria taking advantage by earning the state bid.
In the postgame interviews, Breckenridge/Wahpeton coach Todd Dwyer joked that the coaches talked about the section’s recent unpredictability during the seeding meeting.
Could Willmar be the next team to go on a run?
The Cardinals twice lost to Fergus Falls by a single goal (5-4 on Jan. 5 in Fergus Falls and by the same 5-4 score on Feb. 6 in Willmar).
Senior Devin Johnson netted a hat trick as third-seeded Fergus Falls surged past sixth-seeded Breckenridge/Wahpeton, 5-2 in the Section 6A quarterfinals Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Fergus Falls Community Arena. Johnson broke a 2-all tie in the third period with two goals just 50 seconds apart.
His third goal -- a short-handed tally with 4 minutes, 7 seconds remaining -- finally allowed Fergus Falls (13-11-1) some breathing room against the upset-minded Blades (16-6-0). And it also allowed Otters' fans to shower the ice with caps in celebration.
Despite being outshot 49-17, the Blades twice rallied from a one-goal deficit to tie the game.
After Fergus Falls' Jake Ahlgren opened the scoring early in the first, Breckenridge/Wahpeton's Cody Bronson tied it on a blast from the point during a 5-on-3 power play. The Otters regained the lead midway through the second on Johnson's first goal, a slick passing play from Casey Ward that capped a 3-on-1 rush.
But again the Blades rallied, tying it just 2 minutes, 31 seconds into the third on the first varsity goal from Jim Gudden. Gudden, an exchange student from Holland who has battled a torn hip flexor all season, celebrated by racing to center ice and popping his Blades' jersey.
Ward added a length-of-the-ice empty net goal in the final minute to cap the scoring. Ian Bjorgum made 17 saves for the Otters, while senior captain Wyatt Hedrick stopped 42 shots for the Blades.
Fergus Falls moves on to face No. 7 Willmar in the Section 6A semifinals 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex.
1. Devin Johnson, Fergus Falls
Despite being mired in a scoring slump recently, Johnson broke out when his team needed him most Tuesday night. Tied with Breckenridge/Wahpeton at 2-all in the third period, Johnson scored two goals 50 seconds apart to lead the Otters to victory. In all, the senior finished with a hat trick.
2. Wyatt Hedrick, Breckenridge/Wahpeton
With his coach Todd Dwyer helping him visualize every shot as a beach ball coming at him, the Blades' senior captain made 42 saves on 46 shots. Hedrick faced 18 shots in the first period and 19 more in the second as the Otters threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at him.
3. Casey Ward, Fergus Falls
Ward, a junior, deferred to linemate Devin Johnson earlier in the game, assisting on his first two goals. The first was a pretty 3-on-1 rush that Ward capped by finding Johnson alone off the left post for a goal. He tried to set up Johnson for another goal with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining, but the pass sailed long -- and into the empty Blades' net for the final goal of the 5-2 victory.