MOORHEAD — For the 19th straight season, Moorhead's boys hockey team will play in the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 championship game.
The top-seed Spuds knocked off No. 4 seed Buffalo 3-0 Saturday at Moorhead Sports Center in the semifinals. Buffalo entered 13-0-1 in its previous 14 games. The Bison were eyeing their first trip to the section championship game.
"We knew coming into the game that they were playing tough," Moorhead senior winger Nolan Westra said. "We knew we had to play tough. We had to play a full 51 minutes."
Moorhead will take on No. 3 seed Brainerd at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn.
"They're finally healthy, which is something they haven't been all year," Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said about Brainerd. "They're a team that's deep, they can roll out three lines, they're a team that likes to play fast and physical. Should be a great game."
The majority of the first period was handled by No. 11 Moorhead. Buffalo stayed alive thanks to Nathan Mueller in net, but he couldn't stop everything. With Moorhead (20-6-1) on a power play late in the first, Luke Gramer fired from the the point. Mueller stopped Gramer's shot, but emerging from the traffic in front was Westra, who stuffed Moorhead's third attempt into the back of the net with just under three minutes remaining in the period.
No. 19 Buffalo (17-7-3) had not trailed in its last 11 games. Westra ended that streak at 589 minutes, 43 seconds to open the scoring. It was Westra's final game at Moorhead Sports Center.
"It's pretty surreal," Westra said. "You've spent your whole life in Moorhead and it's the last time you get to play on the ice. It's surreal."
The Bison had a costly error late in the second period and Moorhead made them pay. With less than three minutes remaining in the second, Buffalo was one skater short for a faceoff despite the fact Moorhead wasn't on a power play.
Caden Triggs found Michael Overbo in the slot, and Overbo's backhander put the Spuds up 2-0 with 1:38 remaining in the period.
"I didn't know until the goalie started yelling," Ammerman said. "It was dumb luck and then we take advantage of it with a great play by Michael."
Thomas Horan had hit the post on a 2-on-1 in the first period. He did not miss in the third period, ripping one top shelf less than a minute into the third to put the Spuds up 3-0.
"I was a little stunned right away," Horan said of hitting the post in the first period. "I wanted to score to help get Carter (Johnson) an apple. I just had to come back and work harder. I felt really good about the goal in the third period."
That deficit proved to be insurmountable, as Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges stopped 11 shots in the third period and all 23 that came his way in the game.
Moorhead lost in the section championship at Sanford Center to a St. Michael-Albertville team that won its first section title. Brainerd is trying to do the same.
"I thought we played better tonight than we did on Tuesday and hopefully next Wednesday we play better than we did today," Ammerman said.
FIRST PERIOD: 1, M, Westra (Henkemeyer-Howe, Kleven), 14:02, pp.
SECOND PERIOD: 2, M, Overbo (Triggs), 15:22.
THIRD PERIOD: 3, M, Horan (Johnson), 0:57.
SAVES: B, Mueller 10-11-5—26. M, Hodges 4-8-11—23.