I know this may be sacreligious for a NHL focused website to say but I’ll take outdoor high school hockey over the Winter Classic anyday. I have a good friend, a Minnesota-native who played high school hockey who thinks that’s insane. To each their own but I look forward to watching high school teams battle outdoors than watching the same big market (mostly Eastern Conference) teams play. My hockey grail; until the Wild win a Stanley Cup is the State High School Hockey Tournament. Maybe that makes me a small towner but I can live with that.
This matchup is perhaps a bit more even of a match up on paper as the #1 ranked team in the State, Hill-Murray comes to town with another strong squad. The Pioneers can blow you out in a hurry with a very balanced attack led by senior Ben Bahe who has 23 goals and 45 points. Hill-Murray also has one of the best goaltenders in the metro area in Tim Shaughnessy who can say that he once stopped Mikko Koivu in a shootout as he did during the team’s skill competition last year. Meanwhile, the event’s host Moorhead plays a more defensive style of hockey but one that allows them to stay competitive against just about anyone. The Spuds are led by junior Bryant Christian with a far more modest 10 goals and 37 points. Moorhead is going to hope to keep this game low scoring and close as long as they can but that may be asking too much against such a potent team as Hill-Murray.
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Tale of the Tape:
Moorhead Spuds (14-6-2) – 3rd in Mariucci Conference
#1 Hill-Murray Pioneers (18-3-1) – 1st in Classic Suburban Conference
1st Period Thoughts: The game had a remarkably similar feeling to the first game as Hill-Murray was flying around the ice while Moorhead looked as though it was standing still. The level of skating clearly favored the Pioneers who had more jump at the start of the game. The game was also physical out of the gate although the ice seemed to be giving the Spuds some problems in their end as a few players simply fell to the ice. Hill-Murray would strike early as defenseman J.D. Cotroneo jumped on a loose puck in the Moorhead zone and he moved in on Michael Bitzer and beat him with a tricky backhander to put the Pioneers out to a 1-0 lead. Ben Bahe was showing off his jets as he would fly into the Spuds’ zone where he lifted a backhander that was blocked aside by Bitzer. The Spuds would try to dump the puck deep but they were much more passive than even Roseau was. Sometimes sending just a single forechecker and sitting back in a 1-2-2. The body checking was vigorous but as the period wore on the hits stopped and Moorhead could only manage a few long range shots that did not test Shaughnessy all that much. You could see Bitzer was very efficient with his movement in his crease, but no Spuds skater stood out that made you think Moorhead was about to mount a comeback at this point in the game. The lack of attack by the Spuds took the large, nearly 3,000 in attendance crowd out of the game.
2nd Period Thoughts: The ice was really looking bad. How bad? It was starting to make Anaheim’s Honda Center’s traditionally poor ice seem like it was Rexall Place (the arena voted by the players to have the best ice). After a whole team of people did their best to try to fix it. It was a noble effort, as they used fire exstinguishers to try to freeze up the ice but to no avail. It was especially bad in the crease where it looked like your average blue Ice-E you’d get from Seven Eleven. So after trying to make it work for a few minutes extra after the intermission ended they slid up the goals and to sit near the top of the crease. The bad ice would slow the play down throughout much of the 2nd period. The bluelines were equally bad as players literally looked as they tripped over a rope numerous times, and it was a matter of time before spills would start to change the game. Luke Voltin was trying to skate the puck into the Moorhead zone, and as soon as he hit the blueline as if on cue he fell to the ice and the puck was swept up by Moorhead’s Jesse Doschadis who pushed it up to Eric Brenk and he raced in on Shaughnessy where Brenk ripped a wicked wrister by the Hill-Murray goalie to tie the game. The goal got the crowd going and just moments later another Hill-Murray player spilled on a soft spot in the ice and again the Spuds went on the attack but this time before Bryant Christian could pull the trigger he crashed into Shaughnessy and Logan Ness chipped the puck into the goal which was immediately waived off. It looked as though the Spuds were on their way to turning this game around. Hill-Murray would re-take the lead just seconds later after a nice pass from Jake Guentzel who fed a pass to Bobby Bruski who got open and he blistered a shot by Bitzer. Bruski looks like he has a cannon of a slapper. The ice continued to deteriorate but the hitting did not as the bodies started to get rocked with big hits once again and another period would end with Hill-Murray holding onto a 2-1 lead.
3rd Period Thoughts: The ice again had a horde of people working trying to make it workable with CO2 canisters but to just a mariginal improvement. The period would turn out to be the best of the bunch even though the ice behind the north side of the rink was a complete quagmire. Players continued to fall all over the ice. The Spuds would tie the game, on a nice initial chance by Brendan Johnson that was stopped by Shaughnessy but Bryant Chistian was nearby to tap it into the back of the net, 2-2. Both teams started to trade scoring chances and the ice game would open up. As the teams switched sides, you could sense a bit of nervousness from the Pioneers who were trying to hold off a pretty simple attack by Moorhead who were content to chip a shot on goal and then crash the crease looking to stuff home a rebound. Hill-Muray’s best player Ben Bahe would take the game into his own hands as he turned on the afterburners and blew by the Spuds defense and he beat Bitzer 5-hole to give the Pioneers a 3-2 lead. Moorhead really poured it on down the stretch but Shaughnessy stood tall in his crease and Hill-Murray got the win. I really like the simplified attack both teams had in the 3rd period. There was too much strategy put in place in the 1st period, when really keeping it simple was the best fit for the ice conditions.
The better team won this game, and at again it came down to speed. Bahe’s speed allowed him to have his scoring chance and it goes to show you that if the ice conditions take away your tactics then keeping the game simple and taking the puck to the net is the solution. It is unfortunate the weather conspired to ruin the ice, because it would’ve been interesting to see if the outcome would’ve been significantly different if the conditions of the rink were of a higher quality. Still it was fun to see and both games were very close and that made them compelling to watch.