PHOTOS: Moorhead falls to Grand Rapids, Spuds unable to grab first state hockey title
ST. PAUL - Moorhead senior left winger Matt Herbranson bent over and stared at the ice of Xcel Energy Center, as he hit his stick against his helmet. Spuds were on one knee, while those standing were leaning against their stick, as they watched t...
ST. PAUL - Moorhead senior left winger Matt Herbranson bent over and stared at the ice of Xcel Energy Center, as he hit his stick against his helmet. Spuds were on one knee, while those standing were leaning against their stick, as they watched the players on Grand Rapids drop their sticks and throw their helmets and gloves in the air.
“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my life, watching them do that,” Moorhead senior captain Jacob Holtgrewe said. “We beat them a couple weeks ago. Having me watch them was pretty terrible, but then again, for how many times I’ve watched people play in this tournament, to have me do it was an absolute honor.”
The Thunderhawks celebrated a 6-3 win over Moorhead for its first boys hockey state title since 1980. Moorhead watched, as for the first time since Dec. 29, the Spuds lost.
It was a scene all too familiar to the Moorhead hockey program, which moved to 0-8 in state title games, but not to the current Spud team. They were 8 years old at the oldest when the Spuds last lost in a state title game.
This was a new pain.
“It’s really hard to watch them do that instead of us,” Moorhead junior center and captain Cole O’Connell said. “We played a hard game. It was the best experience of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
The top forward line for Grand Rapids (23-7-1) of Gavin Hain, Blake McLaughlin and Micah Miller scored all six goals. Hain is a University of North Dakota commit, McLaughlin is a University of Minnesota commit and Miller is a St. Cloud State commit.
“We didn’t have an answer for their top line,” Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said, as he began crying. “The toughest of anything is now that that team is done. Tonight was going to be sad either way. Either we lost or they were done.”
Grand Rapids struck first on a blast from the top of the right circle from Hain. Less than three minutes later, McLaughlin’s wrister from the top of the right circle found the back of the net with 6 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the first. The 2-0 deficit was the first time the Spuds had trailed by two goals since Jan. 13, 16 games previous.
“Obviously they’re big-time players,” Ammerman said. “There’s a reason they are highly touted. We have a line of some of those guys too and they made plays too. Our kids didn’t give up though.”
It only got worse for Moorhead, as Hain stuffed home a rebound with 8:08 remaining in the second to put the Thunderhawks up 3-0. Hain got the hat trick less than three minutes later. The Spuds never trailed by three all season and had only given up four goals in a game twice during the season.
The Spuds (24-4-3) answered. Carter Randklev got the Spuds on the board with a power-play goal with 1:15 left in the second. Then, Moorhead’s top line played Tic-tac-toe, as O’Connell sent a pass from the right circle to the left circle to Randklev, who found Jack Stetz in the slot for a goal with 15.3 seconds to go to cut the lead to 4-2.
“It doesn’t really matter who you’ve beaten in the beginning of the year or who you’ve lost to,” Holtgrewe said. “It just comes down to one game.”
Miller delivered the dagger on a blast from the point with 9:52 to go to make it 5-2. Holtgrewe cut the lead to 5-3, going top shelf from right above the left circle with 7:45 remaining, but McLaughlin hit the empty netter with 1:15 left and Moorhead’s hopes of its first state title were done.
“We have a young team and they experienced something that not many people get to,” O’Connell said. “They’re going to take that throughout the summer and they’re going to work hard. We’re all going to work hard. We’re going to come back here next year and give it our best shot.
“Never regret anything. Put everything on the line, every single shift. It goes by fast, and you never want to be done.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, GR, Hain (Heitkamp), 7:26, pp. 2, GR, McLaughlin (Hain), 10:05.
SECOND PERIOD: 3, GR, Hain (Anderson), 8:52. 4, GR, Hain (Miller), 11:48. 5, M, Randklev (Frisch), 15:45. 6, M, Stetz (Randklev, O’Connell), 16:44.
THIRD PERIOD: 7, GR, Miller (McLaughlin), 7:08. 8, M, Holtgrewe (Dronen), 9:15. 9, GR, McLaughlin (Heitkamp), 15:44.
SAVES: GR, Stejskal 8-7-9–24. M, Leonard 11-9-4–24.