Terry Leabo (6) is one of Moorhead's defensive anchors and adds toughness along the blue line. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray repeatedly lives the same miserable day over and over and over again – until he finally gets it right.
Moorhead coach Dave Morinville hopes his version doesn’t take nearly as long.
Morinville recalled the classic movie when the Class AA quarterfinal matchups were set, as his Spuds (21-6-0) drew third-seeded Eagan, the same team that knocked Moorhead out in last year’s quarterfinals. This year’s game is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 8 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“When we get to the state tournament, we know what we’re going to get,” said Morinville, whose team also scrimmaged Eagan early in the season. But while Murray took many turns before he eventually sought redemption, Morinville wasn’t averse to a rematch right away.
“At the state tournament if you think there’s going to be an easy game, you’re going to get beat,” Morinville said. “Would we rather have drawn Maple Grove? Edina? Duluth East?
“There is no easy game.”
And that includes any game against Moorhead, the champion of Section 8AA for the third time in four years and 13th time since 1992. The Spuds are a tough draw for Eagan, largely because of a style that results in precious little breathing room in prime scoring territory – and arguably the state’s best goaltender manning the crease when there is a chance.
As a former goaltender, Morinville knows he has a good one in senior Michael Bitzer (21-6-0, 1.85, .931). A varsity letter winner since his freshman season and one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award given to the state’s best senior goaltender, Bitzer is as talented and experienced as any goalie in the state. He’s a great athlete with a quick glove hand, but his strongest trait is his ability to limit rebounds – and his confidence between the pipes.
“Knowing Michael, he wants to be the guy being talked about,” Morinville said of the media attention given to top goaltenders at the state tournament. “He felt that he should have been the one that was being talked about (last year) and he played well, but he needed help. Now he thinks, ?It’s my turn to shine. Last year I could have been better.’ Being an old goalie and knowing his mentality, that’s great to have.
“But we have to have guys picking people up and clearing rebounds, too.”
On rare occasions when the puck bounces away from Bitzer, Moorhead’s defense led by seniors Terry Leabo (3-19-22), Jake Uglem (6-8-14) and Ben Welle (1-15-16) is there to cover for the Spuds’ superb ’tender.
Offensively, Moorhead’s top line of juniors Thomas Carey (8-24-32) and twins Tony Uglem (23-13-36) and Nicholas Uglem (11-20-31) has been powering the squad much of the season. But with six players scoring at least three game-winning goals, the Spuds have three balanced lines.
The “second” line of seniors Bryant Christian (10-20-30) and Logan Ness (17-8-25) and sophomore Aaron Herdt (10-10-20) and the third line with Cody Rahman (5-12-17), Zach Quaife (6-11-17) and Jesse Doschadis (9-7-16) have also come up with big goals in close games.
Moorhead is a perfect 4-0-0 in overtime games and 10-3-0 in games decided by two or fewer goals.
“We’ve found ways to win games,” Morinville said. “But for us to win, we can’t just have one or two guys show up. We have to have the whole team show up. Everybody has to be ready to go.
“When you play us, you’re playing a team. There aren’t any guys that you say, ?Wow, we’re going to have to keep an eye on that guy.’ ”
While Moorhead doesn’t have a stable of Division I hockey athletes, the Spuds know exactly what they need to do to win. They must get contributions from all three lines and a good effort in goal from senior Michael Bitzer. It’s a formula the Spuds have used all season and are more than capable of providing.
It’s been quite a run for the Spuds under 15-year coach Dave Morinville. During his tenure, Moorhead has qualified for eight state tournaments and finished second four times (2001, 04, 05 and 09). Morinville began coaching as an assistant with the Spuds in the mid-1970s. He’s also been an assistant at the college and pro levels.
Colors: Orange, Black
Assistant Coaches: Erik Grafstrom, Josh Arnold, Greg Salvevold, Joe Emmerich
Home Ice: Moorhead Sports Center, Moorhead
State Tournament Appearances: 1992 (Tier I), 1993 (Tier I), Class AA: 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2011
Section 8AA playoffs