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Chris Murphy, Published February 16 2013

Spuds end regular season with loss to top-ranked Pioneers

MOORHEAD – There was some good news in Moorhead’s 6-4 loss to Class 2A’s top-ranked Hill-Murray boys hockey squad Saturday. The Spuds found out they could hang with the cream of the crop. The bad news is the Spuds don’t have a lot of time to make changes with the regular season now finished.

“We’re right there,” Moorhead coach Peter Cullen said. “We hung in there with the No. 1 team in the state and I think we still have another gear. We didn’t talk about changing and fixing things in the locker room. We talked about the little details. Those details are what we have to clean up right now.”

Leif Johnson scored with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the third to cut the Hill-Murray (22-2-1) lead to 5-4, but the Pioneers netted a clinching goal on an empty net with 6 seconds left to seal it.

The game was tied at 2-2 after one period of play behind goals from Moorhead’s Nick Uglem and Thomas Carey, although the Spuds (11-11-1) were outshot 16-7 in the opening frame to go along with two penalties.

Twenty-nine seconds after Carey gave the Spuds a 2-1 lead, Sam Becker tied things with just over two minutes remaining in the period.

The Pioneers came out with all the momentum in the second period, scoring two goals in the first 2:21 of the frame and never looked back.

“Two quick goals hurts,” Cullen said. “All it takes in hockey is a quick little lull and you’re in trouble. The first minute after a goal is pretty crucial and our guys weren’t ready right away.”

Hill-Murray pushed its lead to 5-2 on a Ryan Black goal, 26 seconds into its third power play. Less than a minute later, John O’Connor scored on a breakaway to cut the lead to 5-3, heading into the third, but the Spuds couldn’t quite find the equalizer.

“We learned that we can play with anyone,” Carey said. “I thought it was a close game all the way, but a couple bounces didn’t go our way. We came out slow in the second period and it killed our momentum. Now, we’re going to be the favorite to come out of the section. We have to play with the mentality that we’re expected to win and roll through the section. We were the underdog tonight, but now we have to play with the mindset that we’re the favorite.”

Moorhead will switch roles, as the Spuds open the Class 2A, Section 8 tournament Tuesday at home. The Spuds will take on a River Lakes team they have yet to play this season.

“We can play with any team in the state for sure,” Uglem said. “We need to bear down and fix some of the small errors we made (versus Hill-Murray) and it’s a way different game. Now, we’re the top team in the section and we have to play like it.”

There are no more games to evaluate anymore. It’s playoff time.

“It’s a whole new season,” Cullen said. “You live to fight another day and play another day or you die. It’s live-or-die time right now.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1. M, N. Uglem 2:15. 2. H, Anderson (Becker), pp, 11:21. 3. M, Carey (Mehnert) 14:23. 4. H, Becker (Funk, Littler) 14:52.

SECOND PERIOD: 5. H, Slattery 1:00. 6. H, Mills 2:21. 7. H, Black (Becker, Brown) 9:12. 8. J. M, O’Connor 9:44.

THIRD PERIOD: 9. M, Johnson (Masseth), pp, 15:40. 10. H, Becker (Lavalle, Black) 16:54.

SAVES: M, Dittmer 14-9-7 30 saves. W, Dugas 5-14-6 25 saves.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548