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By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor, 12/22/12, 2:00PM CST


Defensive-minded Minnetonka playing a lot like Moorhead this season

Moorhead's Alex Mehnert skates with the puck ahead of Minnetonka's Charlie Huminski. Photo by Katherine Matthews

Over the years Moorhead has produced a pantheon of players blessed with offensive wizardry.

Exhibit A was hanging out in the Spuds’ locker room Saturday, Dec. 23, after a 3-3 tie with host Minnetonka at the Pagel Activity Center.

Yep, that was Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cullen checking in with his old team.

More recently though, well, let’s just say Moorhead doesn’t win a lot of run-and-gun shootouts. 

It’s been years since the Spuds have had a goal scorer close to Cullen’s caliber. 

Moorhead teams of the last decade or so have been built to play more of a rope-a-dope style, meaning they are content to focus on airtight defense and rely on scintillating goaltending as they lull their opponent into a false sense of superiority.

Minnetonka's Jared Ridge, right, goes shoulder-to-shoulder against Moorhead's Austin Skjefte. Photo by Katherine Matthews

Minnetonka's Jared Ridge, right, goes shoulder-to-shoulder against Moorhead's Austin Skjefte. Photo by Katherine Matthews

Just when the shots on goal become ridiculously lopsided, the opportunistic Spuds score a timely goal or two. It’s a template that has allowed Moorhead to dominate Section 8AA – the Spuds have reached the state tournament eight times in the 2000s, including three of the last four seasons.

First-year Moorhead coach Pete Cullen, Matt’s cousin, would love to see the Spuds’ deviate from the script and manufacture more scoring chances. Certainly Moorhead (6-3-1) has skilled playmakers and scorers who rise above the mucker and grinder label in brothers Tony and Nicholas Uglem, Thomas Carey and Aaron Herdt.

Nick Uglem, Carey and Herdt all scored for the Spuds (against the Skippers.

“It has become a trend for us, getting few shots on net,” Cullen said after Moorhead was outshot 40-22. “There’s no reason we can’t get more. I mean, just throwing the puck on net creates an opportunity; it doesn’t matter where it comes from or if it is a bouncer or anything. 

“It’s definitely a concern of mine.”

No. 2-ranked Minnetonka, a team known mostly for its ability to produce spectacular displays of offensive fireworks in recent years, has become more Moorhead-like this season. The Skippers (7-1-1) have been built from their goal out, relying heavily on senior defensemen and Division I recruits Tommy Vannelli (Minnesota) and Jimmy Schuldt (St. Cloud State) to get the play moving in the proper direction.

“It’s a lot different than last year,” Minnetonka senior Jared Ridge said. “We don’t have a lot of the goal scoring that we did, but we have a lot of the grinding … I think we will be in a lot more closer games.”

Ridge plays a defensive-first style similar to what has been drilled into Moorhead’s forwards year after year.  

“The last couple years it was, ‘Don’t let them score, don’t let them score, ’ ” Ridge said. “But this year it’s, ‘Don’t let them score, don’t let them score, and see if you can generate some offense as well.”

Ridge scored a first-period goal for the Skippers, his fourth of the season after scoring six in 28 games a year ago.

Who’d have thought outstate Moorhead and west-metro Minnetonka have more in common than the near identical block Ms stitched on the front of their uniforms? Minnetonka coach Brian Urick might as well have been describing the Spuds when he talked about the makeup of this year’s Skippers.

“We don’t have a team that is going to bury seven, eight goals a game,” he said. “We are going to have to play well defensively, do well on the power play, do well on the penalty kill and bury some chances. 

“Rebounds, you know, thrown the puck to the net. Our game is going to come down to how well we play on the back end."

Moorhead defenseman Eric Barker goes down to block a shot by Minnetonka's Jimmy Schuldt. Photo by Katherine Matthews

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Connor Thie

Minnetonka senior Connor Thie scored the only goal of the third period as the No. 2-ranked Skippers rallied to force overtime in 3-3 tie with Moorhead on Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.

Moorhead (6-3-1) took a 3-2 lead heading into the third on second-period goals from Nicholas Uglem and Thomas Carey.

Carey’s goal came on a Spuds’ rush into the Minnetonka end, and he beat Minnetonka goaltender Paul Ciaccio with a gorgeous shot into the upper right corner.

Thie scored after working the puck from behind the Moorhead net and attempting a pass through the slot. His pass was blocked, but the puck bounced right back to his stick, and he buried it high over Moorhead sophomore goaltender Jacob Dittmer, who was still scrambling to get into position.

Moorhead’s Aaron Herdt opened the scoring 23 seconds into the first period, but Minnetonka (7-1-1) responded with goals from seniors Jimmy Schuldt and Jared Ridge to take a 2-1 lead into the second.

The Spuds were unable to capitalize on a power-play opportunity late in the third period and another early in the overtime.

Minnetonka outshot Moorhead 40-22.

1. Jared Ridge, Minnetonka
The senior forward, a third-line grinder last year, has been bumped up on the depth chart this season. That means he’s been asked to do more scoring, and he responded by slamming home a second-period goal. He hasn’t sacrificed his defensive play, however, and he helped kill two Moorhead power plays – one late in the third period and another early in overtime.

2. Nicholas Uglem, Moorhead
The senior scored a goal and helped set another up another while playing his usual brand of hard-nosed hockey. The Spuds didn’t produce a lot of great scoring chances, but when they did have opportunities Uglem was on the ice helping create most of them.

3. Tommy Vannelli, Minnetonka
So sick he couldn’t play two nights prior in Stillwater, Vannelli fired at least five shots on Moorhead goaltender Jacob Dittmer and several of those looked to be headed to the back of the net if not for last-moment saves or deflections.

Moorhead's Nick Uglem. Photo by Katherine Matthews

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