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During a power play in the second period Bemidji’s Jack Johnson (39) missed this shot on goal but Nick Leitner deflected the rebound in past Warroad goalie Noah Burns to score the equalizer in the second period Thursday at Bemidji Community Arena. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BOYS HOCKEY: Warroad edge Lumberjacks in nailbiter

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BEMIDJI — The scoreboard might not show it, but the Bemidji High School boys hockey team saved its best period of hockey for the last.

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Down 3-2 to Class A No. 3 Warroad the Lumberjacks did everything they could to score an equalizer in Thursday night’s game at Bemidji Community Arena, peppering Warroad goalie Alex Burke with eight shots on net and getting even more scoring chances that didn’t find their way to him.

But despite an exciting final two minutes that saw BHS nearly score three times with an extra attacker, visiting Warroad hung on for a 3-2 victory to split the season series between the two teams.

“We generated a lot of scoring chances and had a lot of opportunities, we just couldn’t find a way to bang the puck home,” BHS head coach Wade Chiodo said. “But we played hard right until the end.”

Warroad head coach Jay Hardwick was relieved to escape Bemidji with a win. The Lumberjacks defeated the Warriors 4-3 in their previous meeting this season in Warroad.

“We never have an easy game against Bemidji,” Hardwick said. “They always battle us hard no matter what our records are. They give a battle every time.”

On Thursday the Lumberjacks (9-12-1) had to battle from the start against the Warriors (19-4-1). Warroad’s Jared Bethune scored a power play goal halfway through the first period and Logan Wallace added a second tally at the 14 minute mark, giving the Warriors a 2-0 lead at first intermission.

But, as Chiodo put it, the Lumberjacks are never one to back down despite falling into an early hole.

“Our kids just really responded tonight,” Chiodo said. “We were down 2-0 and we responded to tie. Then they responded in the third period and played hard til the end of the game. I’m happy with what we were able to do tonight.”

Bemidji scored two power play goals in the first half of the middle frame to tie the game at 2-2.

Noah Burns kicked things off just 1:14 into the period, redirecting an Erik Fitzgerald centering pass past Burns to make it 2-1.

Later in the period defenseman Nick Leitner got in on the action to tie it up, tapping in a rebound in a virtually empty right side of the net following a shot from Jack Johnson.

But the Lumberjacks didn’t have much time to celebrate, as a minute later Warroad’s Kyle Sylvester scored what turned out to be the game-winner on an unassisted goal that fooled BHS goaltender Garrett Atteberry with a series of dekes.

“That was a big goal for us,” Hardwick said. “They had all the momentum following those two power play goals so we were able to get a little of that back.”

Not all of it, though.

Bemidji came out strong in the third period, outshooting the Warriors 8-5 and generating plenty of offense. Burke, though, was up to the challenge, saving all eight chances.

The Lumberjacks had at least five Grade A chances with an empty net late in the contest. After Warroad nearly scored an empty-netter, Bemidji won the faceoff and got the puck back to Nick Leitner, who took a slapshot from the point that went wide of the net. Jake Leitner picked up the bounce off the boards and tried to tape it in but Burke slid over and made the save before the Warriors iced it again with five seconds to go.

The Lumberjacks won the ensuing faceoff and Burns muscled his way into the slot and had two shots off Burke, then recovered for a centering pass to Jake Leitner just before the final horn sounded. Leitner couldn’t get the shot off and Warroad escaped.

Burke made 17 of 19 saves for Warroad in the win while Atteberry took the loss for BHS, making 19 saves on 22 shots.

Bemidji returns to the ice Saturday for a matchup with Section 8AA foe St. Cloud Tech.

“We played a good hockey game tonight,” Chiodo said. “You want to be playing your best hockey towards the end of the season, and we’re playing pretty well right now. We just need to find the back of the net.”

Warroad 3, Bemidji 2 War 2 1 0 — 3

Bem 0 2 0 — 2

First Period — 1, War, Bethune (Sylvester, Jaycox), 9:03, PP; 2, War, Wallace (Oelkets, Hontvet), 9:03. Penalties — Bem, Burns (High Sticking), 8:48; War, Wallas (Elbowing), 16:52.

Second Period — 3, Bem, Burns (Fitzgerald, Isensee), 1:14, PP; 4, Bem, N.Leitner (Johnson, J.Leitner), 6:35, PP; 5, War, Sylvester (Unassisted), 7:23. Penalties — War, Roth (Tripping), 5:13; Bem, B.Hartje (Elbowing), 7:43; War, Hontvet (Holding), 10:08.

Third Period — No Scoring. Penalties — War, Cole (Holding), 4:07; Bem, Isensee (Cross Checking), 8:50; War, Sylvester (Tripping), 8:50.

Shots On Goal — War, 11-6-5—22; Bem, 5-6-8—19. Goalies (Shots-Saves) — War, Burke (19-17); Bem, Atteberry (22-19). Penalties-Minutes — War 5-10; Bem, 3-6. Power Plays-Opportunities — War, 1-for-2; Bem, 2-for-4.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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