MOORHEAD — Carter Johnson didn’t even know he scored the game-winning goal.
He didn’t see the puck dribble across the goal line, but the crowd inside the Moorhead Sports Center let him know as it erupted to celebrate his go-ahead goal in the third period of Moorhead’s 3-1 victory over Bemidji in the first round of the Class 2A, Section 8 boys hockey tournament on Tuesday.
“I tried to go in front of net to screen and it hit my stick and I honestly didn’t even know it went in until everybody started cheering,” Johnson said. “I was surprised, but I was happy.”
With the game knotted up at 1, and Bemidji goalie Tanner Rebischke standing on his head, a matter of inches made the difference and kept the No. 4 Spuds’ season alive.
Maccoy Gregoire rifled a shot from the point and Johnson deflected it toward the net to the left of the goalie. It slowly inched its way toward the goal line as Rebischke dove back across his body to try to keep it out. But it crossed just before his stick could reach.
As the goal horn sounded, the Spuds took off on a celebratory sprint as they avoided disaster against a team they defeated 9-0 in the regular season. They finally had the lead in a game in which they had trailed 1-0, despite having approximately all of the possession and all of the scoring chances.
Lukas Feir added an empty-netter with 1 minute, 21 seconds to go.
“Ultimately that top line of Triggs, Gess and Johnson has been our motor all year,” Moorhead head coach Jon Ammerman said. “I thought they were outstanding throughout the night. They end up scoring two goals. They could have had at least a handful more.”
Moorhead lived in the attacking zone and outshot Bemidji 55-17. But the Spuds struggled to find an answer to the riddle of how to get a puck past Rebischke. The junior goalie stopped 52 shots with 15 saves in the first, 20 in the second and 17 in the third.
“He played a tremendous game,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to him. He made some incredible saves. If it wasn’t for him, we would have had a few more goals.”
After a scoreless first period in which the Spuds outshot the Lumberjacks 15-2, Bemidji took a 1-0 lead 6:26 into the second period. Sophomore left winger Wylee Gladen wrapped around the goal and snuck a shot in by Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges at the post. Gage Mostad got an assist on the goal.
A second Lumberjacks goal was waived off a minute later for goalie interference.
“We just had to keep playing the game (after the goal),” Johnson said. “We switched it on, like ‘Now it’s time to go.’ We were hesitating a little bit, but we did a good job of responding.”
Moorhead finally got one past Rebischke with 2:46 to go in the second period. Johnson flew by the Lumberjacks defense up the right wing and forced a kick save. Caden Triggs crashed in from the slot and buried the rebound.
“What a great response,” Ammerman said. “To go into the intermission tied is a big momentum swing as opposed to being matched up. At this time of year, crazy things happen and we did enough to win tonight.”
The Spuds advance to play St. Cloud in the section semifinal at home on Saturday. The Spuds defeated St. Cloud 4-3 at home on Jan. 11.
FIRST: No scoring.
SECOND: 1, B, Gladen (Mostad) 6:26. 2, M, Triggs (Gess, Johnson) 14:14.
THIRD: 2, M, Johnson (Gregoire, Gramer) 13:45. 3, M, Feir (unassisted) 15:29.
SAVES: M, Hodges 2-6-8—16. B, Rebischke 15-20-17—52.