THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – Moorhead’s bid to play in a 15th state boys hockey tournament fell short Wednesday night.
Instead, top-seeded Bemidji advances to its sixth state tournament – its first since 1986 – after handing the Spuds a 2-0 loss in the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 championship at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It marked the Spuds’ third loss this season to Bemidji – falling to Lumberjacks 4-2 and 3-0 during the regular season.
“I’m so proud of these kids” Bemidji head coach Wade Chiodo said. “It’s pretty cool what they did, and it’s huge for the community, the school, our program and most importantly the kids on the ice.”
Senior Grant Tharaldson stood tall in net for Bemidji, as the senior made 25 saves to post his third straight shutout. He held all three of his section tournament opponents scoreless in the three games the Lumberjacks played.
It was also his sixth shutout of the season, but Wednesday’s was the biggest.
“(Tharaldson) was unreal,” Bemidji sophomore Brady Tatro said. “He stood on his head for us tonight. He definitely won this game, no doubt about it.”
Tharaldson didn’t do it alone. The Lumberjacks got down and dirty in front of him, blocking numerous Spuds shots and passes.
“I’ve got a great defense blocking shots,” Tharaldson said. “They’ve been my rock all year and I can always count on them being there for me.”
Tharaldson also needed help from his offense, and he got it in the final seconds of the first and second periods.
With 16 seconds left in the first, Bemidji went on a breakaway with junior Rocky Copiskey picking up an assist after Tatro cleaned up his missed shot and scored.
Tatro’s goal proved to be the game-winner, but senior Jake Leitner added insurance with 2 seconds left in the second with his snipe off an assist from his junior brother Nick Leitner.
“Right now I don’t even care about (having the game-winning goal),” Tatro said. “All that matters is our team won and we are heading to the Xcel (Energy Center).”
If the two-goal lead wasn’t insurance enough, Moorhead was whistled for a cross-checking call and a tripping call with two minutes left to give Bemidji a 5-on-3 power play, which effectively ended the game.
Spuds goalie Jacob Dittmer kept his team in it, making 18 saves.
“We have really liked, especially the last half of our year, our effort,” Spuds coach Jon Ammerman said. “I think that showed tonight. I think that really wore on them, but we just weren’t able to top them.”
Moorhead, appearing in its 15th straight section championship game, have appeared in state tournaments in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013. The Spuds, who have yet to win a state title, have placed second at state six times: in 1992 and 1994 to Bloomington Jefferson, in 1995 to Duluth East, in 2001 to Elk River, in 2005 to Academy of Holy Angels and in 2009 to Eden Prairie.
Bemidji has appeared at state in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1985 and 1986 – with a runner-up finish in 1974.
With the win, the Lumberjacks are the first team in Class 2A, Section 8 outside of Moorhead and Roseau to win the title since Alexandria did it in 1996.
“It’s huge,” Tharaldson said. “Growing up we are playing (Moorhead and Roseau) constantly, and to end their streak is pretty awesome.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, B, Tatro (Copiskey) 16:44.
SECOND PERIOD: 2, B, J. Leitner (N. Leitner) 16:58.
THIRD PERIOD: No scoring.
SAVES: M, Dittmer 18. B, Tharaldson 25.
Kris Lodes of the Bemidji Pioneer contributed to this story