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BOYS HOCKEY: Fitzgerald, Lumberjacks shut out Warroad 3-0

WARROAD -- The Bemidji High School boys hockey team started its season out as well as it could’ve hoped on Tuesday with a 3-0 shutout of Warroad at The Gardens.

After each team managed to kill off penalties to finish the first period at a scoreless tie, a Warroad (0-1) lack of discipline led to Bemidji’s first goal of the year.

The Warriors took three penalties in the first five minutes of the middle period. The second and third overlapped for a lengthy 5-on-3 chance for BHS, and the third was a five-minute major penalty for boarding.

It took a while, but the Jacks (1-0) finally wore Warroad down enough for senior captain Ryan Pogue to open the scoring at the 8:56 mark during the major power play. Josh Baker and Casey McNamara picked up assists on the tally.

“Very happy with the start (of the season),” BHS head coach Eric Monsrud said. “I thought that first period was just getting our bearings, and once we got past that first period, that’s when we really started to play some hockey.

“We had some good looks on the power play. That tired them out, helped us keep our legs and keep the gas in the tank. And our kids were able to capitalize and took advantage of it, and we were able to score.”

With 23.6 seconds left in the second, junior Hunter Olson doubled the lead with an unassisted goal after stealing the puck on the forecheck and cutting around the net to a good scoring area for the snipe.

Because the Lumberjacks had trouble pressuring the puck in the offensive end at times in the first period, Monsrud said they made some changes on the attack during the first intermission.

“In the second period we kind of tweaked our forecheck a little bit, and that seemed to make a difference,” he said. “They weren’t able to get the puck out as easy as they were in the first period. So I give credit to the kids for making that adjustment and making it happen.”

Just over five minutes into the final frame, BHS junior Zak Justice -- in a similar No. 10 navy and white jersey to what he wore this fall on the football team -- took a pass from Joey Leitner and streaked down the right side and beat Warroad goalie Joseph Jacques to put the game away 3-0. Tanner Hammitt was also credited with an assist on the play.

Although the Lumberjacks controlled most of the game as far as puck possession goes, the most impressive performance may have come in their own end.

Senior goaltender Matt Fitzgerald stopped all 22 shots he faced to secure his first shutout of the season in his first game action of the winter.

After the successful season he had last year and the statewide attention he received prior to the start of this season, one might think Fitzgerald could be feeling some extra pressure to perform well.

But Monsrud said it doesn’t affect him.

“I don’t think that plays into his mindset at all,” he said. “He’s out there, his first job is just to stop pucks. And boys does he do it, and he does a great job of it. That’s all we ask of him.”

Fitzgerald and the rest of the Jacks look to keep things rolling into Thursday night’s 7:30 p.m. home opener against Brainerd at Bemidji Community Arena.

“This got our feet wet, got this game under our belt and we’re feeling good about ourselves,” Monsrud said. “We know that tomorrow we gotta get back to work and get ready for Brainerd on Thursday.”

Bemidji 3, Warroad 0

BHS 0 2 1 -- 3

WHS 0 0 0 -- 0

First Period -- No Scoring.

Second Period -- 1, BHS (Power Play), Pogue (Baker, McNamara), 8:04; 2, BHS, Olson (Unassisted), 16:34.

Third Period -- 3, BHS, Justice (Leitner, Hammitt), 4:10.

Goaltending (Shots-Saves) -- BHS, Fitzgerald (22-22); WHS, Jacques (28-25).