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Moorhead boys hockey using loss in last season's state title game as motivation

MoorheadMost didn't look, but Moorhead forward Jack Stetz stood statuesque at the far blue line of Xcel Energy Center last March and stared. It was as if he was forcing himself to watch Grand Rapids celebrate a Minnesota Class 2A boys hockey titl...

Pictured is the Moorhead boys hockey team after losing in the Minnesota Class 2A boys hockey state championship. Quoted is what they were thinking at that moment. Illustration by Meaghan MacDonald / Forum
Pictured is the Moorhead boys hockey team after losing in the Minnesota Class 2A boys hockey state championship. Quoted is what they were thinking at that moment. Illustration by Meaghan MacDonald / Forum

Moorhead

Most didn't look, but Moorhead forward Jack Stetz stood statuesque at the far blue line of Xcel Energy Center last March and stared. It was as if he was forcing himself to watch Grand Rapids celebrate a Minnesota Class 2A boys hockey title.

"It should be us," Stetz said to himself.

Defenseman Karson Kvalevog was on one knee, staring at the scoreboard, almost pleading for it to give the Spuds more time. It read 6-3, dropping Moorhead to 0-8 in state championship games.

"Just looking up at the scoreboard, knowing we could've had it," Kvalevog said.

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Moorhead forward Carter Randklev also stared at the celebration. To his right was senior Matt Herbranson, bent over, banging his stick against his helmet. The high school careers of seniors around him were done.

"We came so close throughout the game and it slipped through our hands," Randklev said. "Ultimately, it's everyone's childhood dream to win a state championship or get to the state tourney, but coming that close with all your friends it's tough losing, especially when it's 6-3."

After the game, Moorhead team manager Sam Beedy, who has Down syndrome, cried as he gave a speech in the locker room. He loved telling the players he was a super senior. He thanked them.

"I think everyone broke down," Stetz said. "Sam's speech is what I'll remember the most."

A little over a mile away from Xcel Energy Center, at an Embassy Suites, Moorhead fans and alumni lined the balconies, waiting for the team to arrive. Teams in the state tournament are somewhat secluded, staying in hotels away from family and friends, so they don't see much of one another. A recent tradition for Moorhead boys hockey is fans giving the team a standing ovation when they enter the Embassy Suites, after playing in a game on the final day of the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.

"It was just kind of emotional that, even after we lose a state championship, our fans and family and friends were all still behind us," Randklev said. "I think that's important for a community that even after a tough loss like that they're still behind you and supporting you.

"It would've been way different if we won. Even though they're still clapping deep down inside you know you lost the most important game of all of our lives."

Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman stood in the back, as the team entered the hotel. He wanted the players to have that moment.

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"It was really important for the kids to realize what they had done in that week," Ammerman said. "Me, I went through it as a kid. You don't really realize during the week what it means to the community. You're caught in the moment, that rollercoaster. That was a really good thing for the kids to see."

The Spuds enter this season ranked No. 3 in Class 2A. They return seven of their top-eight scorers and their starting goalie from the last two seasons. Their top forward line of Randklev, Stetz and Cole O'Connell, who combined for 146 points last season, return.

With all of that, expectations return as well.

"Everybody is expecting a lot from us," O'Connell said. "They put us in the high ranking, but we got to practice hard every single day and get better every day."

The first game of the season is 8 p.m. Friday against Lakeville North at Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minn. The Spuds want another team to stare blankly at them celebrating in the last game of the season.

"This time a year ago we were hoping to make it to the state tournament," Ammerman said. "The way things came together was really important. The way we went to work was really important, and our kids were rewarded because of that. We need to keep that in perspective too. Going into the state tournament we were ranked 15th and we were playing on the final day in the championship. Rankings don't mean anything. It's about getting better every day. Hopefully we're in the same spot and there's a different result."

Related Topics: BOYS HOCKEYMOORHEAD
Murphy has covered sports in Chicago, Minnesota and North Dakota since 2009, working for The Forum since 2012. Contact: cmurphy@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5548
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