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Cougars finish with flourish

By MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/10/12, 6:00PM CST


Lakeville South star Justin Kloos scores winner in third-place triumph over Moorhead

Lakeville Sotuh's Justin Kloos fires a shot on Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer as the Spuds' Terry Leabo blocks the crease. Photo by Adam Crane

Lakeville South coach Kurt Weber had a message for his team on the locker room white board before Saturday’s Class 2A third-place game. But he stated it without words.

Weber left the board totally blank.

“You have a choice,” he told his team, harkening back to a 10-1 thumping laid on them by Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the semifinals the night before. “You can wipe yesterday out of your mind or you can choose to worry about yesterday.”

Yesterday’s troubles seemed far away for South (22-9-0), which erased its bad memories with a 2-1 victory over Moorhead (22-8-0) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Saturday, March 10. The present and future of the Cougars program tallied the goals, sophomore Patrick Lauderdale and senior Justin Kloos.

Both came into the post-game press conference wearing their third-place medals proudly.

“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay. I’m a tradition guy. I want to build tradition in the Lakeville South program,” Kloos explained, the bronze medal glinting against his red and gold South jersey and his head held high.

“For us to walk away with hardware, that’s a big deal for the young kids and for everyone in the community. It’s not what we wanted. We wanted to win the state championship like everybody else, but we came back strong.”

Lakeville South's senior captains hold their third-place trophy, earned with a 2-1 victory over Moorhead. Photo by Adam Crane.

South shocked the state by earning a medal at the X, a run that began with a 3-2 upset of top-seeded Duluth East in the quarterfinals.

“After Thursday night, it was electric,” Weber said, describing the circus atmosphere that suddenly surrounded his team. “These kids went from nobody giving them a chance to being on the front page of the sports section the next morning.”

Weber spoke of the tradition he has been trying to build since taking over a new program seven years ago. He mentioned the efforts the varsity players make with the young program, building interest in the Cougars.

On Saturday night, it’s perhaps fitting that the game’s first goal was scored by Lauderdale – the future of South hockey – and the winning goal was scored by Kloos -- the face of the program the past two years. Kloos also assisted on Lauderdale’s goal at 14 minutes, 11 seconds of the first period, setting up the youngster for a perfect one-timer.

“I knew that I’d get a cross ice pass from Justin,” shrugged Lauderdale after the game, pausing to consider his next words.

Both Kloos and Weber cut in to save the tight-lipped Lauderdale, apologizing with, “He’s only a sophomore.”

True, but he’s going to have to grow up fast.

The blank slate on their locker room white board also represents the future for the Cougars – a clean slate. South graduates nine seniors, including key defensemen Joe Freemark and Charlie Heller, sniper Alex Harvey and Kloos, the favorite to earn the Mr. Hockey award.

“They did a great job of laying the ground work down for the tradition,” Lauderdale said, admitting he was young and immature when the season began before learning from players such as Kloos and Harvey. “Hopefully me or (junior) John (Wiitala) can carry it the next couple of years and leave the school with a good legacy.”

Both Wiitala and Lauderdale have played on a line with Harvey and Kloos, soaking up their leadership first hand. Wiitala was the pair’s wing man last winter and Lauderdale served as the their intern this season.

“He’s one of those kids that was born a hockey player,” Kloos said of Wiitala. “He understands the game, he works hard and he’s a great competitive player. And Lauderdale is just starting to grow. He’s going to be incredible.

“They might have to get used to the next 10 games without the seniors that led the way this year. But I think they’re going to do a great job of building the tradition.”

-- by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Saying goodbye is tough to do

Goaltender Michael Bitzer has been an anchor for Moorhead for the past four seasons, playing as a freshman on the 2009 state runner-up. Photo by Adam Crane.

For two straight seasons and three of the last four, Moorhead has made the trip to the Class 2A state tournament.

One of the assets it has relied on was experience and senior leadership.

Playing in their last high school game together, the 12 Spuds seniors ended the season with a 2-1 loss to Lakeville North in the Class 2A championship game.

"Few seniors on your team and it's tough to see them go," Moorhead coach Dave Morinville said. "Sometimes you get in these games and your more sentimental than you are trying to win third place."

There is no doubt next year's team will take a major hit in that department as the Spuds will have to reload and rely on what they accomplished the past two years.

However, experience is not the only thing Moorhead will lose.

There was goalie Michael Bitzer who looked like he was going to steal the show after two days of the state tournament.

"It's going to be tough next year," sophomore forward Aaon Herdt said. "We have 12 seniors and three, four juniors and two sophomores coming back. Not a lot of experience coming back.

"Bitzer is such a good goalie, I don't know if anyone can fill his shoes. You have to give a lot of the credit to him. He kept us in it, especially against Hill-Murray. He's the anchor of our team."

Moorhead will not be looking ahead to next season.

The 2012 season is still fresh and the positives will be reflected on before moving forward.

"I feel like it was a great year," Bitzer said. "Not just for me, but for the whole team. You have to look at it from a team perspective. We are one big family."

In the quarterfinals, Moorhead took down third-seeded Eagan and followed with identical 2-1 losses to Hill-Murray and Lakeville South.

Even after two defeats, the season is still a success.

"Finishing fourth in state is nothing to be sad about," Morinville said.

-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub

Nate Johnson (24) scored Moorhead's only goal in the third-place game, the first tally of his varsity career. Photo by Adam Crane.

Statistics, Summary

Game recap

Senior Justin Kloos scored the game winner in the second period as Lakeville South rebounded from its lopsided semifinal loss against Benilde-St. Margaret's to finish the state Class 2A tournament with a 2-1 victory over Moorehad and a surprise third-place finish on Saturday, March 10, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Kloss, a University of Minnesota recruit who is one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists, also had an assist on Patrick Lauderdale’s first-period goal and finished the season with 102 points.

Kloos decisive goal came 3 minutes, 16 seconds into the second period and put the Cougars (22-9-0) ahead 2-0.

Moorhead (22-8-0) rallied in the third period on a goal by Nate Johnson, who needed just 28 seconds to get the Spuds on the board.

Lakeville South goaltender Tyler Schumacher, who allowed seven goals in Friday’s 10-1 semifinal loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s, stopped 20 of 21 shots. Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer, a finalist for the Frank Brimsek award given to the state’s top senior goaltender, also made 20 saves.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub staff

1. Justin KloosLakeville South
The Mr. Hockey finalist did everything he could to make his final high school game a memorable one. He was only credited with one shot – on a snipe from the left dot that turned out to be the eventually game-winner – but he was all over the ice, starting rushes, driving to the net, back-checking… you name it. Not a bad way to finish your amazing season, Mr. Kloos. He finished the season with 103 points and his career with 238, easily inside the top 25 in career scoring in state history.

2. Tyler SchumacherLakeville South
Talk about a bounce back. After being pulled in Friday’s semifinal, Schumacher did his best Michael Bitzer impression and played a sound, simple game between the pipes. His glove was hot, his legs moved well and he ended up leading his team to a third-place finish. He made 20 saves, including 12 in the second period when the Spuds cranked up the heat in the Cougars’ defensive zone.

3. Nate JohnsonMoorhead
The senior fourth-line forward picked an opportune time and grand venue to score the first goal of his career, rifling a shot into the net in the third period to give the Spuds a boost. Johnson entered the tournament with two assists and doubled his point total in a mere three games. 

-- MN Hockey Hub staff

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