BRAINERD — A heart-breaking defeat overshadowed a heart-pounding comeback.
The Brainerd Warriors fell behind the Bemidji Lumberjacks, Section 8-2A’s top team and defending champion, by an almost insurmountable 4-0 deficit Tuesday at Essentia Health Sports Center. But Brainerd stormed back to a 4-4 tie before surrendering two goals in the final 3 1/2 minutes, including an empty netter with 28 seconds remaining, to lose 6-4.
“You know what? I think we got a Christmas gift to be honest with you, a late Christmas gift, and I’ll take it,” Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo said. “At the end of the day, a win is a win. I’m not happy with our performance but ultimately we found a way to win.
“I knew right away we didn’t have much legs tonight. I could tell right away. We got fortunate bounces right away then obviously we let them back in the game. You can’t do that when you’re on the road. You’ve got to find a way to finish it off, then get on with the game.”
Bemidij rifled in the game’s first four goals before the Warriors roared back.
The Warriors’ comeback began in the final minute of the second period. Brainerd defenseman Mitchell Andres hit the crossbar from the point with the Warriors enjoying a 2-man advantage. Seconds later Jack Evans scored into an open side of the net to slice the deficit to 4-1 at 16:27.
Consecutive goals by Cole Ball whittled the Warriors’ deficit to 4-3. The senior forward blocked a shot at his blue line while short-handed, gained control of the puck, skated in and snapped a backhander past Bemidji goalie Matt Fitzgerald and it was 4-2.
Less than five minutes later, Ball’s sharp wrister at 6:06 cut Brainerd’s disadvantage to 4-3. Evans’ wrister beat Matt Fitzgerald at 8:49 to tie it 4-4.
Bemidji’s Erik Fitzgerald scored the game-winner when his shot glanced off of Mick’s glove and fell behind him and into the net for a 5-4 Bemidji lead. Alex Pollock’s empty netter at 28.6 closed the scoring.
Bemidji scored three power-play goals in the first two periods.
In the first, the Warriors were whistled for the first of their six penalties at 1:08. Less than a minute later, the Lumberjacks’ Jaret Lalli scored on a wrister from a sharp angle.
The Lumberjacks opened the second on a power play and Jack Johnson delivered a rebound goal one minute in. The initial shot hit traffic in front and Johnson rapped it past a screened Mick.
At 8:45 of the second, Bemidji’s Ryan Pogue poked in a loose puck that had dropped in a crowd of players in front.
Erik Fitzgerald’s one-timer inside the blue line on another power play gave Bemidji a 4-0 edge at 13:27 of the second.
Bemidji 1 3 2 — 6
Brainerd 0 1 3 — 4
First period: Bem-Jaret Lalli (Brady Tatro, Jack Johnson) ppg 2:09
Second period: Bem-Jack Johnson (Alex Pollock, Erik Fitzgerald) ppg 1:00; Bem-Ryan Pogue (Matthew Gregg, Josh Lusby) 8:45; Bem-Erik Fitzgerald (Tatro, Pollock) ppg 13:27; Brd-Jack Evans (Matt Fischer, Mitchell Andres) ppg 16:27
Third period: Brd-Cole Ball shg 1:43; Brd-Ball (Eric Stout) 6:06; Brd-Evans (Gavin Andres) 8:49; Bem-Erik Fitzgerald (Pollock) ppg 12:35; Bem-Pollock (Gregg, Cole Hartje) eng 16:32
Shots on goal: Brd 4-5-8--17, Bem 10-8-9--27
Goalies: Brd-Brady Mick (21 saves); Bem-Matt Fitzgerald (13 saves).
Bemidji’s Jack Johnson (39) chases after the puck with Brainerd’s Sam Selisker (16) during their game Tuesday night in Brainerd. The Lumberjacks beat the Warriors 6-4. Kelly Humphrey | Forum News Service