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Despite a 0-2 road trip, the Buffalo boys’ hockey team came home feeling good about the weekend.
Back-to-back games against two Section 8AA powers resulted in a 2-1 loss Friday, Dec. 2 in Bemidji, and 3-1 defeat Saturday, Dec. 3 at Moorhead.
The Bison fought toe-to-toe with a Bemidji squad, that has posted two straight undefeated seasons at home, and are the two-time defending section champions.
Two goals by Josh Baker gave the Lumberjacks a 2-0 lead, but Bison senior Blake Habisch closed the gap to 2-1, when he deflected a shot from the point by senior defenseman Nick Mueller at 11:45 of period two on the power play.
Buffalo had a chance to change momentum in the third period when they received a 5-minute power play for a checking-from-behind call on Bemidji. The Bison could never tally the equalizer, and Bemidji escaped with the 2-1 win.
“We lost a bit of momentum from that power play,” said Bison head coach Aaron Johnson. “We played well Friday, but we felt we let one slip away.”
Sophomore Nathan Mueller made 21 saves in goal for the Bison. Shots favored Bemidji 23-18.
The Bison immediately hopped on their coach bus for a Saturday evening tilt in Moorhead.
Unlike recent seasons, Buffalo’s road trips never included overnight stays. The opportunity to travel was another highlight to the weekend.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Buffalo players had the opportunity to skate and practice on the ice at Scheels Arena – home of the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League.
“It’s been a couple years since we’ve gone out of town like this,” Johnson said. “It was neat for our senior class to be able to experience a road weekend and it was an important team bonding experience.”
“It’s a blast,” Nathan Mueller said. “You really get to know your teammates, and that always will help with performance on any playing field.”
It certainly helped Mueller’s performance. Despite a lopsided shot advantage for the Spuds, Mueller stopped 53 of 56 shots, while Buffalo fired only six towards Spud goalie Lance Leonard.
The game was tied 1-1 after one period. Carter Randklev opened the scoring for Moorhead, but senior Cade Stensby scored on one of Buffalo’s two shots in the opening period.
“Our guys came out Saturday and didn’t have their skating legs right away,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have our best game Saturday, but Nathan gave us a shot to win it.”
Cole O’Connell scored a pair of second-period goals, but the game remained close, despite shots favoring Moorhead 39-4 through two.
Neither team could find the twine in period three.
“Nathan played one of the best games in goal I’ve seen at the high school level,” Johnson said.
Mueller has started all three of Buffalo’s games. The first-year varsity goaltender said the weekend gave himself, and his teammates a ton of confidence.
“It was a lot of fun realizing that we can compete with some of the top teams in the state,” Mueller said. “I believe we mentally got a lot stronger for these type of games in the future. I am so proud we proved that we’re a team that can play with anyone, and showed that we belong in those types of games.”
Bison coaches also learned something from the weekend. Even though the results were close, Johnson still knows the road to state will likely go through the path they just took.
“We expect both these teams to be the top-two in our section,” Johnson said. “The rest of us are hoping to knock them off. But, there are a lot more positives than negatives to take home from the weekend.”
Buffalo (1-2) will play its fourth straight road game at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8 at MAML (Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake). The first home games for the Bison is 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 versus St. Cloud, and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 against Delano.
Bemidji 2, Buffalo 1
(Friday, Dec. 2 at Bemidji)
Bison 0 1 0 - 1
Lumberjacks 1 1 0 - 2
First period: BL -- Josh Baker (Ethan Pickett) PP, 1:40.
Second period: BL -- Baker (unassisted) 7:58; BB -- Blake Habisch (Nick Mueller, Tom Rooney) PP, 11:45.
Third period: No scoring.
Goalies: BB – Nathan Mueller (loss) 23 shots, 21 saves; BL – Carson Olson (win) 22 shots, 21 saves. Shots: BB – 4-13-5 – 22; BL – 9-10-4 – 23. Power Plays: BB – 1-4; BL – 1-6.
Moorhead 3, Buffalo 1
(Saturday, Dec. 3 at Buffalo)
Bison 1 0 0 - 1
Spuds 1 2 0 - 3
First period: M -- Carter Randklev (Cole O’Connell, Parker Larson) 6:32; B -- Cade Stensby (Stone Goodmanson, Jon Pearson) 6:51.
Second period: M -- O’Connell (Jack Stetz) 1:55; M -- O’Connell (Stetz, Ethan Frisch) PP, 13:56.
Third period: No scoring.
Goalies: B – Nathan Mueller (loss) 55 shots, 52 saves; M – Lance Leonard (win) 6 shots, 5 saves. Shots: B – 2-2-2– 6; M – 19-20-16 – 55. Power Plays: B – 0-3; M – 2-5.