After falling behind 2-0 in the second and 4-3 in the third, it appeared the Brainerd Warriors were in danger of losing to a team that has won six games this season.
But the Warriors arose as Mitch McLain, Reno Fussy and Matt Pohlkamp scored in the final 6-plus minutes for a 6-4 victory in the final game of the regular season Thursday night at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
“It was good actually for the boys to get down a couple of goals and have to battle back and see what that’s like,” Warriors coach Jim Archibald said. “A win’s a win. We’re going to take it. (Friday) a new season starts.
“We told the boys to have fun tonight, but starting (Friday) she’s one and done. It’s too cold to golf so we need to play for a while longer.”
On senior night, Matt Pohlkamp tied the Warriors’ career record for total points with a hat trick. That ties him with J.P. Platisha, who finished his career in 2002 with 174 points.
“It means a lot,” Pohlkamp said of the record. “There have been so many good Brainerd hockey players to come through here. To be the leading point scorer would be a pretty big deal.”
Thursday’s game was a big deal for Pohlkamp and eight classmates: Mitch McLain, Gaven Motschenbacher, Aaron Rich, Josh Mackenthun, Jared Stearns, Mitch Howieson, and student managers Jimmy Giese and Ryan Sincleair.
“It’s really special,” Pohlkamp said of senior night. “We’ve been playing high school hockey for a long time. Having the last home game, it’s pretty cool.”
The postseason begins Tuesday when the third-seeded Warriors host No. 6 St. Cloud Tech. Archibald is confident Brainerd can go deep in the playoffs.
“We feel we have the guys that can do the job,” Archibald said. “I think it’s just a confidence thing. If we play the systems and we play the way we have for the majority of the year ... I know we’re going to be successful.
“I think the boys learned tonight the goaltender plays a lot the same style as (Moorhead’s Michael) Bitzer did the other night. They finally figured it out. If we put some bodies in front of the net, and he doesn’t get to see the puck, sooner or later it’s going to go in.”
Sartell goalie Taylor Shaw faced a whopping 43 shots and kept Brainerd at bay until the 10:54 mark of the third. McLain tied it with a slapper from the point on a power play. Fussy slammed in the game-winner with a score into the lower right corner at 12:05. Matt Pohlkamp finished it with a backhander at 15:31.
Despite outshooting the Sabres 15-3 in the first, Brainerd fell behind 1-0 at 8:01. Sartell tallied on a power play when Michael Whitson beat a screened Kyle Helmberger, who replaced Stearns after the first shift.
Brainerd trailed 2-0 after Sartell’s Ryan Bidinger scored from the slot. The Warriors then pumped in three unanswered goals in the final 3-plus minutes of the second, during which they outshot Sartell 19-8.
Cole Smith started the barrage with a rebound at 13:34. Matt Pohlkamp followed with a pair of goals, the first with a cannon of a slap shot from inside the faceoff circle at 14:32. With one second left in the period, he took a feed from Aaron Rich near the crease and buried it.
Thursday’s win enabled Brainerd, which captured its third straight Central Lakes Conference title this season, to win its 21st game, two away from the program record. In order to break that record the Warriors are going to have to win the section.
“We really want to get to the state tournament,” Pohlkamp said. “We’re hungry for that.
“(Having never been to state) gives you a sick feeling. You really want to get it. We’re sick of hearing about Roseau, and Moorhead and Bemidji. It’s just our turn.”
Sartell 1 1 2 — 4
Brainerd 0 3 3 — 6
First period: S-Michael Whitson (Isaiah Merteschippers, Ethan Lorsung) ppg 8:01
Second period: S-Ryan Bidinger (Alex Omann) 7:06; B-Cole Smith (Logan Rivard, Chris Pohlkamp) 13:34; B-Matt Pohlkamp (Aaron Rich) ppg 14:32; B-Matt Pohlkamp (Rich) 16:59
Third period: S-Whitson (Merteschippers, Lorsung) 14:06; S-Aaron Randall (Isaac Lindstrom) 9:42; B-Mitch McLain (Gaven Motschenbacher) ppg 10:54; B-Reno Fussy (Logan Rivard, Smith) 12:05; B-Matt Pohlkamp (Motschenbacher, McLain) ppg 15:31
Shots on goal: Brd 15-19-9-43, S 3-8-6-17
Goaltenders: Brd-Jared Stearns (1 save in first 1:50), Kyle Helmberger (12 saves in final 49:10): S-Taylor Shaw (37 saves).