By Ryan S. Clark
ST. PAUL – Four Division I commits, three 50-point scorers and a No. 3 seed.
It might sound like the recipe needed for a state title. Or in the Moorhead boys hockey team’s case, the ingredients to make an upset taste even sweeter.
Goaltender Michael Bitzer made 34 saves while Logan Ness scored two goals helping Moorhead upset No. 3 Eagan 4-0 on Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the Minnesota Class 2A state boys hockey tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It is a big upset,” said Spuds coach Dave Morinville. “But we have a group of guys that bend but don’t break.”
Moorhead’s senior goaltender lived up to the hype that has made him the favorite for the Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota’s best senior goaltender.
Bitzer continually denied a Wildcats team that beat Moorhead 4-0 last year to open the state tournament.
Eagan’s high-powered offense had a pedestrian eight shots in the first but ramped it up to 16 in the second period.
Slap shots, wristers, and even a breakaway from 54-point scorer Nick Kuchera was turned away with ease by Bitzer.
“I don’t know,” Bitzer responded when asked about the breakaway. “I just tried to come out and give myself a chance, and it went into my pads.”
Bitzer did more than give just himself a chance. His stops gave Moorhead a chance to pick away at Eagan.
Eagan yielded only four shots in the first, but in the second Cody Rahman put a shot on net and the rebound went to Jesse Doschadis for a 1-0 lead with 9 minutes, 29 seconds left in the frame.
Then came Ness.
Moorhead’s power play was looking for an opening and Ness found one, beating Eagan’s Christian Butler for a 2-0 lead with 6:09 left in the third.
Ness was back at it again four minutes later for a snipe that beat Butler.
“Move my feet,” Ness said. “That’s what coach has been telling me to do and that’s what I did.”
A fourth goal by Bryant Christian, who had a goal and two assists, completed what was a 180-degree turn from last year’s game.
It also set up a date with Hill-Murray in today’s semifinal. Thursday’s quarterfinal attendance was 17,222.
Moorhead lost 6-1 to Hill-Murray at the end of the regular season when section pairings had already been finalized and the game was a formality.
With a bit more on the line, it could be a lot closer this time.
Moorhead, after all, is making its 13th state appearance, having finished second a record seven times. Moorhead is still waiting for the program’s first state title.
“I think a lot of people forget they have about 15 seniors back,” said Eagan coach Mike Taylor. “They had a young team last year. I didn’t expect this to be like we were going to come in and have our way.”
Sports | March 9, 2012 | Page D1, D6
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