BEMIDJI – Successful teams find a way to elevate their performance during the section tournaments and Tuesday at the Community Arena the Bemidji boys hockey team took their game to a new level.
Except for a brief span in the first period, the Lumberjacks dominated St. Cloud Tech and that extra effort was rewarded with a 6-2 victory in the Section 8-2A quarterfinals.
In other Section 8-2A action Tuesday, Moorhead thumped River Lakes 8-2 and Brainerd beat Monticello 4-1.
The other section game, which finds Buffalo traveling to Roseau, was postponed because of poor road conditions and has been rescheduled to 5 p.m. today.
Tuesday’s triumph vaults the Jacks into Saturday’s 7 p.m. section semifinal game at No. 1 ranked Moorhead. The teams battled twice during the regular season and both times the games went to overtime. Bemidji lost 5-4 at Moorhead in early December and on Feb. 9 they skated to a 4-4 tie at the Community Arena.
BHS entered Tuesday’s contest as the fourth seed while Tech was ranked fifth. On paper, the game was supposed to be similar to Bemidji’s 3-2 regular-season victory over the Tigers, but in reality the visitors were no match for the Lumberjacks’ speed and tenacity.
“Except for a five-minute stretch in the first period I thought the kids played exactly the way we envisioned them to play all year,” said BHS coach Wade Chiodo. “I played a lot of kids tonight and every one of them showed a ton of character. I know that we’ll be ready to play this way again on Saturday.”
If the Lumberjacks match Tuesday’s performance in the semifinals, they probably will beat Moorhead. It would have been tough for any team to match Bemidji’s speed and desire on Tuesday and setting the example was senior center Matt Serratore.
“Coming into this game we thought it was a game we could win,” Serratore, who registered a hat trick to lead the offense, said. “We went into the game determined to work hard. We felt that if we did that things would go our way.”
Things did go Bemidji’s way in the early going as the offense generated many odd-man rushes, only to be denied by a bad hop or a key save by Tech goalie Austin Althaus.
His luck ran out midway through the stanza, however, when Bemidji’s Brett Isensee kept the puck in the zone at the right point and passed to Noah Burns, who was stationed in the slot.
Burns’ initial shot was stopped by Althaus but the rebound slid to the left crease where a diving Burns was able to tip it under the crossbar.
A minute later the Lumberjacks scored again, this time courtesy of Serratore. Mike Sauer did most of the work as he flew to the boards to beat a defender to the puck and sent a perfect feed to the slot that Serratore was able to zip past the goalie.
At the 11:26 mark of the period the Tigers temporarily stopped Serratore the only way they could when Jacob Peterson slammed him into the boards behind the St. Cloud Tech net.
Peterson was given a 5-minute boarding major but Sauer was called for a roughing penalty when he went after Peterson in retaliation.
With both teams skating a man down Tech took advantage of the 4-on-4 when Braden Altena beat BHS goalie Gabe Heifort.
Later during the major penalty the Jacks were called for another minor and, once again, the Tigers connected during the 4-on-4.
The first period ended with a 2-2 tie, and Serratore and the Lumberjacks knew that the second period would determine the outcome.
“We were riled up between the first and second periods and the kids knew that the first few minutes of the second period were important,” Chiodo said. “And they came out flying.”
“When they tied the game we got a little nervous but we knew the turning point of the game was that second period,” Serratore said. “Luckily we took the right path.”
Bemidji stormed the Tech zone early in the middle session and the pressure paid immediate dividends when Jake Leitner beat Althaus from between the circles three minutes into the stanza.
At the 7:58 mark the Lumberjacks struck again as Serratore corralled a rebound and slid it between the goalie’s legs.
The 4-2 lead carried into the third period and 3:45 into the final stanza Serratore completed his hat trick when he stole the puck at center, used a side-step to deke two defenders and beat Althaus with a rocket wrister.
The Lumberjacks were skating shorthanded at the time but you couldn’t tell which team was a man down because Bemidji controlled the play and did not allow a shot on net.
Sauer capped the scoring with four minutes to go as he converted another perfect feed from Leitner.
“This was a fun game to play,” Serratore said. “The final score doesn’t reflect the way the teams played. There was a fast pace to everything and that’s what you expect in the playoffs.”
St. Cloud Tech 2 0 0 – 2
Bemidji 2 2 2 – 6
First period – 1, B, Burns (Isensee) 8:30. 2, Serratore (Sauer, Leitner) 9:44
Second period- 3, SCT, Altena (Oberg) 12:14, 4-on-4. 4, SCT, Skaja (Setrum) 15:46, 4-on-4
Third period – 5, B, Serratore (unassisted) 3:45 SH. 6, B, Sauer (Leitner) 13:02
Saves – Althaus (SCT) 5-6-8-19; Heifort (B) 11-10-7-28
Penalties/minutes: SCT 2-7; Bemidji 5-10