BEMIDJI — With the score tied 1-1 late in the third period, the Brainerd Warriors liked their chances of defeating the top-seeded Moorhead Spuds.
Then an official’s whistle blew, penalizing Brainerd five minutes for boarding. About a minute later, Brainerd drew another penalty. The Spuds scored in a 5-on-3 situation and added an empty netter for a 3-1 win over the Warriors in the Section 8-2A championship game Thursday night at the Sanford Center.
At the 9:17 mark of the third, Brainerd received a 5-minute major. At 10:12, the Warriors’ drew an interference penalty, giving Moorhead a 2-man advantage for 2 minutes and 6 seconds. The Spuds’ Logan Ness quickly capitalized at 10:32, jamming the puck through bodies and past Brainerd goalie Jared Stearns.
Moorhead’s Terry Leabo scored into an open Warriors net with 15 seconds left to deny Brainerd its first trip to the state tournament.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s a 1-1 hockey game, and we get put down two men short, and that results in the winning goal,” Warriors coach Jim Archibald said. “I just wish the players on the ice could have decided the game.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re very proud of these guys. Each and every one of them can walk out of this building tonight with their heads held high because they had a heck of a season. They came tonight and played their heart out. That’s all we can ask for.”
The third-seeded Warriors could ask for nothing more from Stearns. He stopped 27 shots and was just as stingy as Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer, who made 23 stops.
Brainerd’s opportunities in the third, during which it was outshot 14-6, included Cole Smith’s rocket on a turnover close to Bitzer, who survived a Brainerd 4 on 3 and 5 on 4 late in the third.
“We had as many missed opportunities as they did,” Archibald said. “We had a couple bounces that maybe didn’t go our way, but that’s hockey. That’s part of the game.”
Brainerd finished 23-5, appearing in only the second section final in program history.
“The guys put forth a heck of an effort,” Archibald said. “Our last three games they played very well. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up where we wanted to be, but as coaches we’re very proud of these guys. We’ll take the weekend off, but sit down Monday and talk to everyone individually. I guess we’ve got to start looking at next year now.”
Brainerd’s Aaron Rich tied the game 1-1 at 14:21 of the second. Matt Pohlkamp wheeled around and flicked a shot off of Bitzer’s shoulder. The rebound dropped to Rich in front and he whacked it in.
“It was kind of a scramble in front,” Archibald said. “It was kind of a greasy goal and somebody poked it in.”
The Warriors outshot Moorhead 12-7 in the second and had several opportunities. Gaven Motschenbacher threw two difficult shots toward Bitzer on a power play, Bitzer made a pad save on a hard Mitch McLain shot and Bitzer made a skate stop on a Cole Smith chance.
Stearns foiled Thomas Carey in front in the second. He also received a little goaltending assistance from defenseman Chris Pohlkamp, who gloved an on-ice shot while Stearns had shifted to the opposite side of the net.
Moorhead’s Bryant Christian opened the scoring at 14:16 of the first.
Stearns stopped a shot by Nick Uglem, the puck fell in the crease and Christian was there to tap it home.
Brainerd’s chances included Matt Pohlkamp’s blast off of Bitzer’s chest on a power play and Thomas Stoxen’s slap shot from the point that required Bitzer to make a toe save.
Moorhead, which outshot the Warriors 9-6 in the first, had additional opportunities. Aaron Herdt hit the pipe from close range, and Cody Rahman was robbed in front by Stearns.
Brainerd 0 1 0 — 1
Moorhead 1 0 2 — 3
First period: M-Bryant Christian (Nick Uglem, Tony Uglem) 14:16
Second period: Brd-Aaron Rich (Matt Pohlkamp, Mitch McLain) 14:21
Third period: M-Logan Ness 10:32; M-Terry Leabo (Christian) eng 16:45
Shots on goal: Brd 6-12-6-24, Moor 9-7-14-30
Goalies: Brd-Jared Stearns (27 saves); Moor-Michael Bitzer (23 saves)
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.