MOORHEAD-Moorhead began the defense of its Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 crown Tuesday, and the kings made their decree loudly in a 12-0 drubbing of Rogers at the Moorhead Sports Center.
"We didn't necessarily need to make a statement," said Moorhead senior left winger Carter Randklev, who had a hat trick on Tuesday. "We just needed to get going because it's one game and you're done if you don't play your best game. That's what's fun about playoffs. It's a little bit more of a thrill, there's more on the line for us and to get this win in this fashion is good for us moving forward."
Having the top seed doesn't mean the jitters go away come playoff time for No. 9-ranked Moorhead (19-7).
"There's a lot more energy," said Moorhead senior defenseman Parker Larson, who had four assists on Tuesday. "The boys get going. It's just more fun. There's still some butterflies in the stomach. You want to play good for your city."
St. Cloud is what stands in the way of Moorhead's 18th straight trip to the section championship game.
"They're a very good team," Randklev said. "They're a little underrated. They have some players that are very good, both front and back end. We played them pretty well last game, but it's going to be a tough battle. Any game in the playoffs is a lot bigger of a battle when it could be your last game."
Randklev opened the scoring less than six minutes into the game. Jack Stetz fought and got a puck to trickle out from behind the net and Randklev was right there in front of the crease to slam it home. Cole O'Connell made it 2-0 late in the first when his wrister hit off Rogers goalie Nathaniel Johnston's glove and rolled into the back of the net with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first. Luke Gramer delivered an early dagger with a one-timer that pushed the lead to 3-0 with 59.3 seconds left in the first.
"I thought we started very well," Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said. "I thought in the first two periods we had some very nice goals, very high-skilled plays and did a nice job of finishing plays, which maybe has been kind of a bugaboo for us throughout the season, but I thought start to finish we were pretty good."
The Spuds sealed the game in the opening minutes of the second period, as Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe, Tommy Horan and Randklev each scored by 3:33 into the period. Randklev moved to fourth in Moorhead history for career goals when he completed the hat trick for the 76th goal of his career later in the period. He jumped Brian Nelson to move into fourth.
"It's a great achievement to obviously be up there with such great names like (Matt) Cullen and Brian Nelson," Randklev said. "I got coached from (Nelson) in bantams, and I learned a lot of great things from him growing up. It's amazing to be in that category, but it's playoff time now. I'm just trying focus on our team and getting back to the state tournament."
The Spuds would add goals from Henkemeyer-Howe, Ryan Stafford and Wyatt Gunkel to leave the second period with a 10-0 lead. The third period was a countdown to the section semifinal game.
Spuds will host St. Cloud at 7 p.m. Saturday in the section semifinals. They beat St. Cloud 3-0 on Jan. 30.
"They have some very high-skilled forwards up front, they work extremely hard and they're a senior-laden team," Ammerman said. "That's the kind of mix you want this time of year. You want a group of guys that it's tough to end people's seasons. When you have a group of seniors it's really tough."
For the Moorhead seniors, Saturday will be their last game at Moorhead Sports Center.
"That being my last game in here, in front of my community and all the fans I've had the pleasure to play in front of, it's kind of a sad moment," Randklev said. "We're going to come out and try to get the win for them."
FIRST PERIOD: 1, M, Randklev (Stetz) 5:46. 2, M, O'Connell (Dronen), 12:30. 3, M, Gramer (O'Connell, Dronen), 16:01.
SECOND PERIOD: 4, M, Henkemeyer-Howe (O'Connell, Dronen), 1:50. 5, M, Horan (Larson, Stetz), 2:45. 6, M, Randklev, 3:33. 7, M, Randklev (Kleven, Stetz), 7:03. 8, M, Henkemeyer-Howe (Larson, Dronen), 12:45. 9, M, Stafford (Larson), 13:25. 10, M, Gunkel (O'Connell), 16:53.
THIRD PERIOD: 11, M, Horan (Larson), 0:18. 12, M, Horan (Stafford, Gregoire), 16:30.
SAVES: R, Johnston 9-8-10-27. M, Leonard 3-3-2-8.