For 13 years, the path to the state tournament ouf of the northwest corner of the state has gone through Moorhead. The Spuds have played in the Section 8AA final every year since falling in the quarterfinals in 2000. It's an amazing streak that continued this year despite the graduation of all-state goaltender Michael Bitzer and the retirement of longtime coach Dave Morinville.
When the Spuds (14-11-2) made it nine state tournament trips in that same time span with a 2-0 shutout of Brainerd this season, first-year coach Pete Cullen was asked if it was a vindication of his coaching.
"I never thought of it like that," said Cullen, who played on the 1994 and 1995 Spuds' teams that finished second in the state along with his cousin, Matt Cullen, and under his uncle, coach Terry Cullen. "I'm really just proud of the guys. It's not about me. I'm proud of the guys and the effort they put in."
That's the Moorhead way -- and one that has led to such a long string of success. Now Cullen hopes to bring Moorhead to even greater heights in his first season. The Spuds have never won the whole enchilada, but have finished second a record seven times.
-- Tim Kolehmainen
FORWARDS: "We have to push the pace. When we're going hard and fast, we're pretty darn good," said Cullen. "It works for us and what works for us, we're going to try and stick with it." The strength of this year's Moorhead team is up front, where veteran forwards Tony and Nick Uglem, Thomas Carey and Aaron Herdt have been key to its success. The Uglem twins are both long and lanky with great reach, but Tony is the sniper and nick is more of a playmaker. Carey has fit well into both roles. Herdt, a junior, is a high-energy player with a wicked shot.
DEFENSE: It's been a growing season for an inexperienced group of defensemen, but they've come together well. Sophomores Will Borgen and Alex Mehnert have arguably been the most valuable and consistent blue liners. Junior John O'Connor has good puck-rushing ability and senior Eric Barker is small in stature but tough.
GOALTENDING: Replacing Michael Bitzer was going to be impossible. But since getting the full-time job after the holidays, sophomore Jacob Dittmer has been effective in goal. he's a tall goaltender who fills the net.
Cullen took over this winter after longtime spuds' coach Dave Morinville retired. The 1995 Moorhead graduate was an assistant under Morinville last season and has also coached in the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association for nearly a decade. State tournament fans might remember Cullen. He played in the state tourney with the Spuds in 1994 and 1995, finishing second both years (two of Moorhead's record seven runner-up finishes). Cullen also played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
This isn't the same Moorhead team that relied heavily on goaltender Michael Bitzer ... but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. When the Spuds are on, they can upset anyone and that includes quarterfinal foe Duluth East. Veteran forwards will be key.
2012-13 Record: 14-11-2
State trips: 1992, 93, 94, 95, 97, 2001, 02, 03, 04, 05, 09, 11, 12, 13
Coach: Pete Cullen
Assistants: Dale Lund, Jason Gregoire, Jim MacFarlane, Sean Bertie
Home arena: Moorhead Sports Center, Moorhead
Last season: Lost to Lakeville South in Class 2A third-place game, 2-1