MOORHEAD-Moorhead senior right winger Jack Stetz paused for a second and smiled. He knew the question was leading. He knew something he said could end up posted in the locker room of any Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 opponent. He didn't bite when asked if any team in the section scares the Moorhead boys hockey team.
"That's a hard question," Stetz said. "I'd say some teams got to feel intimidated, but there's also some teams that are ready to play against us. We've always had a target on our back, coming off of last year. We're going to get everyone's best effort."
No. 8 Moorhead dismantled Bemidji 9-0 Tuesday to finish off the regular season 9-1 against section opponents, outscoring teams in those 10 games 40-8. Five of those goals for opponents came in a 5-0 loss to Brainerd.
The Spuds have won eight straight since that loss.
"We started bringing the puck to the net, started playing as a team," said Stetz, who finished with two goals and an assist Tuesday. "Our depth started showing and everyone started doing their jobs."
It took more than 11 minutes and a power play for Bemidji to get its first shot on goal Tuesday. The Lumberjacks (10-14) had a productive power play, putting the pressure on goalie Lance Leonard, but the senior stopped all three shots and the Spuds scored 21 seconds after killing the penalty to take a 1-0 lead. One was enough for Leonard to pick up the 50th win of his career in net.
In the midst of a Bemidji line change, Moorhead senior left winger Carter Randklev got loose, found a trailing Stetz in the high slot and Stetz's wrister found the back of the net with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first.
"Those new line changes after the Brainerd loss really kind of boosted everything," said Randklev, who had a hat trick and an assist Tuesday. "We got new chemistry and that's been adding more scoring depth.
"I wouldn't say we feel unbeatable. I think we're starting to come together as a team. Throughout most of the season we were trying to resemble last year's team. This year's team is a whole different story."
It barely took four minutes for Moorhead (18-6) to push the lead to 4-0 in the second. Cole O'Connell sent a pass through the Bemidji defense from the right point to the doorstep, and all Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe had to do was tap it in. Ryan Stafford stuffed home a rebound 28 seconds later and Tommy Horan made it 4-0 just a little over two minutes after that to make it 4-0.
Bemidji pulled goalie Matt Fitzgerald, but that didn't stop the onslaught from the Spuds. O'Connell sent a no-look pass between his legs to Stetz in the slot for a goal, the 100th point of Stetz's career, and the Spuds' first short-handed goal of the season with 7:32 left in the period. Randklev made two defenders miss and fired off the crossbar and in 36 seconds later and Stafford got his second of the period 27 seconds after that for a 7-0 lead. The Spuds scored six goals in the second in a span of less than nine minutes.
"That was a culmination of a lot of things we've been working on throughout the season finally translating to the game," Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said of the second period. "We had a couple phenomenal plays from Randklev, Stetz and O'Connell, but it was a lot of dirty work, bringing the puck to the net and second and third opportunities. It was fun to watch."
Moorhead hosts Hill-Murray on Saturday before the playoffs begin and the Spuds defend their section crown. Just like Stetz, Ammerman didn't bite on the question. The section throne is enough reason to want to beat the Spuds.
"We've been competitive in every game that we played, but the last time we played Brainerd we lost by five," Ammerman said. "I don't know if dominance is the right word. We have a chance to go to the state tournament if we play well."
FIRST PERIOD: 1, M, Stetz (Randklev, Larson), 13:21.
SECOND PERIOD: 2, M, Henkemeyer-Howe (O'Connell, Dronen), 1:36. 3, M, Stafford (Johnson, Horan), 2:04. 4, M, Horan (O'Connell), 4:12. 5, M, Stetz (O'Connell), 9:28 (sh). 6, M, Randklev, 10:04. 7, M, Stafford (Johnson), 10:31.
THIRD PERIOD: 8, M, Randklev (Stetz, Frisch), 1:35 (pp). 9, M, Randklev (Kleven), 12:23.
SAVES: B, Fitzgerald 10-3-x-13, Johanns x-3-6-9 . M, Leonard 7-2-2-11.