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Chris Murphy, Published February 27 2013

Persistent Spuds headed to state

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Nearly 40 minutes had passed and Moorhead had put 29 shots on Brainerd goalie Kyle Helmberger with nothing to show for it. Three shots hit the post, and two shots trickled toward an open net, but were deflected away by a diving Warriors player at the very last second.

That was until Tony Uglem buried a slap shot from the point in the back of the net to give Moorhead a 1-0 lead with 11 minutes, 51 seconds left in the game. That’s all the Spuds would need, as they punched their 14th ticket to the state tournament and hoisted their third straight Class 2A, Section 8 championship with a 2-0 win Wednesday at St. Cloud State.

“I let it rip and it was able to get over the glove,” Uglem said. “We knew what we were doing was working, and we just had to wait until one went through.”

One goal was all Moorhead (14-11-2) sophomore goalie Jacob Dittmer would need, as he stopped all 26 shots that came his way.

As the game went on, Dittmer’s confidence grew. By the time Alex Mimmack blasted a slap shot at him with 1:05 remaining and the Spuds clinging to a 1-0 lead, there was nowhere that puck was going but directly into Dittmer’s gut.

“I was confident,” Dittmer said when the shot came his way. “I had seen the shot several times and I had made the stop several times. I had to do it.”

Moorhead killed four Brainerd (21-6) power plays, three of which came in the second period.

The Warriors scored six power-play goals in an 8-5 win against the Spuds on Jan. 10, notching their first win over Moorhead since the 1999-2000 season. That was the fourth of five straight losses for the Spuds and was a low point in the season. Wednesday wasn’t the smoothest of victories, but that’s how the season has gone for the Spuds.

“We didn’t get into as much penalty trouble as we did last time,” Cullen said. “It’s a section final game, so, of course, it’s going to be stressful. That’s what it’s all about. We just kept pushing the pace. Our pace is a little bit faster than theirs, and our kids delivered and came through in the end.”

Dittmer certainly picked a good night to shine. He was the first Moorhead player in the spotlight during pregame introductions, and he never let it go.

“He’s had good ones and he’s had bad ones,” Cullen said. “Tonight was one of those nights that he finally realized he has one role. It sounds cliché and simple, but he just has to stop the puck. He really focused from one save to the next save, and that’s all he had to worry about, and that’s all he did. And that is why we got to where we are.”

The ice can’t always be smooth. Just like the Spuds season, there’s bound to be tough patches that a skater can either avoid or try to go through. Wednesday, as Aaron Herdt’s empty netter slid into the Brainerd net with 22 seconds left in the game to seal the section championship, the Spuds broke through.

“It feels awesome,” Cullen said. “We’re going to be one of the final eight, as the best in the state. These guys really poured their heart and souls into this and they deserve it.”

FIRST PERIOD: no scoring.

SECOND PERIOD: no scoring.

THIRD PERIOD: 1. M, T. Uglem (Herdt), pp, 5:09. 2. M, Herdt, empty net, 16:38.

SAVES: M, Dittmer saves 9-11-6 26. B, Helmberger 14-9-9 32 saves.

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