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Spuds stake claim in Section 8AA

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 01/25/11, 10:45PM CST


Behind Logan Ness hat trick Moorhead beats Roseau, 6-1

Moorhead's Logan Ness (26) scored a hat trick for the second time in a week, leading the Spuds to a 6-1 victory over Roseau (Photos by Tim Kolehmainen).

Logan Ness (26) crashes into Roseau goaltender Jared Strand during the first period (Photo by Tim Kolehmainen).

If history holds, the rubber match will be for a trip to state.

Logan Ness tallied his second hat trick in a week as Moorhead surged past Roseau, 6-1 in a Section 8AA showdown Tuesday night at the Moorhead Sports Center.  Ness netted a goal in each period, as the Spuds (12-4-1) avenged an earlier loss at Roseau (7-8-0) and kept hope alive for a top seed in sections.

Bryant Christian added a goal and three assists and defenseman Terry Leabo had a goal and an assist for Moorhead.

“It’s a big confidence booster,” said Spuds’ goaltender Michael Bitzer, who stopped 31 of 32 shots for the victory. “It feels great, especially after what happened up there (a 2-1 loss on Dec. 14).”

The two Northwestern powerhouse programs have combined for the past 14 Section 8AA titles. They’ll have plenty of competition this winter – including from Bemidji, which has beaten Roseau and tied Moorhead already – but precedent is against other programs.

“It really was a must game for us,” admitted Spuds’ coach Dave Morinville. “If you want to play at home for the semis, it was a do-or-die game.”

Moorhead raced out to a 3-0 lead after one period on goals from Leabo, Ness and Eric Brenk.  Ness made it 4-0 midway through the second period, then capped the hat trick with a goal in the third. 

“Just keeping having fun, it’s all about that,” said Ness of his recent host streak, which has coincided with his placement on a line with Christian and Brendan Johnson. Christian added a third period goal for the Spuds.

Jared Strand started in goal for Roseau, making 15 saves on 21 shots before being replaced by Ryan Erickson for the final six minutes, 40 seconds.  Erickson stopped all five shots he faced.

Mike Johnson scored Roseau's lone goal, banking a shot off Leabo and past Bitzer to cut the Moorhead lead to 4-1 late in the second period. But that was all the offense the Rams could muster. They were missing two key regulars on the forward line, as both Josh Erickson and Travis Connell missed the game because of injuries.

Roseau coach Andy Lundbohm hopes to have both back by this weekend, but their loss was noticeable as the Rams couldn’t put together many quality scoring chances.

It’s latest loss continued an unusually streaky winter for Roseau.

The Rams struggled out of the gate, losing their first five games before ripping off a seven-game winning streak (one that started with their mid-December victory against Moorhead). But this latest setback continues a three-game slide, including the last two against Roseau’s chief Section 8AA rivals, Bemidji and Moorhead.

“The (train) just kind of came off the tracks a little bit,” said Lundbohm. “But no excuses, we had enough in the locker room to win the game. But the bottom line is that Moorhead just played better than us.”

The Rams have back-to-back section road games this week, playing at St. Cloud Tech on Friday and Buffalo on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Moorhead has run off six straight victories since a 3-1 loss at Minnetonka on Jan. 8. The Spuds travel to Brainerd for a section game this Thursday, then host Centennial at the Moorhead Sports Center on Saturday evening.

Spotlight on: Michael Bitzer

Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer flashes his quick glove (Photo by Tim Kolehmainen).

It was perhaps an all-to-familiar refrain for Moorhead opponents. The Spuds jumped to an early 3-0 lead against Roseau Tuesday night, then let junior goaltender Michael Bitzer close the door in a 6-1 victory.

“Once we got that lead, you could just tell with Bitzer in the net it was going to be a tough night for them,” said Moorhead coach Dave Morinville.

Morinville’s quote could have been taken from any number of games so far this winter, as Bitzer has been frustrating foes since the puck dropped in early December. On Tuesday night, he made 31 saves on 32 shots to actually improve his save percentage to .946, which stood second-best in the state entering the game.

Bitzer has played all but one period between the pipes for the Spuds this winter. In 17 games, he has an otherworldly 1.60 goals against average, even more impressive since he’s faced nearly 30 shots a game. That total has been boosted by a 49-save effort (in a 4-1 victory at Wayzata on Dec. 15) and a 36-save effort (in a 2-1 victory over the same Trojans on Dec. 29).

“He’s very good at stopping that puck,” said Morinville. “It’s very seldom that he gives up that first shot. It’s usually a rebound or a scramble in front of the net.

That’s Bitzer’s game in a nutshell. He’s a terrific athlete with a quick glove hand and feet to match. He’s very good at directing the first shot he sees out of harm’s way. And it doesn’t hurt that the Spuds have a solid defense in front of him.

“My defense has been really well lately. They’re keeping a lot of shots to the outside and boxing out up front,” said Bitzer. “They’re making it easy on me.”

While just a junior, Bitzer has more varsity experience than most. He is the only goaltender ever to start a game for the Spuds as a freshman (he was 7-0-0, 1.98 GAA, .910 SV% as Moorhead advanced to the Class AA title game that year) and then split time with Logan Marks last winter as a sophomore (6-3-0, 1.70, .927).

With Bitzer alone backstopping them this year, the Spuds are on a six-game winning streak in which they’ve allowed a total of five goals (and no more than one in any game). And he’s fast getting a reputation as a closer.


Moorhead coach Dave Morinville reacts to a penalty call during the Spuds' 6-1 victory over Roseau (Photo by Tim Kolehmainen).

Statistics, Summary

Photo Gallery

Three Stars

1. Logan Ness, Moorhead
With his second hat trick in a week, Ness has suddenly come alive in the scoring column.  The junior forward scored once in each period for the Spuds and has a team-high 10 goals on the season.

2. Michael Bitzer, Moorhead
While he didn't seem to be tested quite as much as in recent games, Bitzer still saw 32 shots against Roseau, stopping 31 of them.  His defense kept the Rams from penetrating for rebounds, allowing Bitzer to make the first save and clear the puck.

3. Terry Leabo, Moorhead
The junior defenseman opened the scoring with a laser wrister from the point and later added an assist on a Ness goal.  He was also a  key member of the Spuds' tough defense that limited Roseau to just one goal.

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