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BOYS HOCKEY: Warriors advance to section championship game

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BEMIDJI — A year ago the Bemidji Lumberjacks defeated Brainerd 3-1 in the Section 8-2A semifinals by containing the Warriors’ high-flying offense and taking advantage of their opportunities.

In December, the Lumberjacks did the same thing and rolled to a 5-2 victory in Brainerd.

In each of those losses, Brainerd coach Jim Archibald and his staff learned something about their team and how to play the Lumberjacks. Saturday, at the Community Arena, that education paid dividends.

Second-seeded Bemidji’s season came to an abrupt end Saturday as the Lumberjacks fell 5-2 to the Warriors in the section semifinals.

Third-seeded Brainerd will return to Bemidji at 7 p.m. Wednesday to play top-seeded Moorhead for the Section 8-2A title at the Sanford Center on the campus of Bemidji State University. Moorhead eliminated No. 4 Roseau 3-0 in Saturday’s other section semifinal.

“I’m really happy for the guys in this locker room,” Archibald said. “We pushed them very hard this year. Every time you get to a section semifinal you learn something and after being here a few times we have learned how to play (in pressure games).

“If you can get 14 or 15 kids to buy into what you are telling them, this (a berth in the section final) can happen.”

After a scoreless first period the Warriors scored three quick goals in the second and the Lumberjacks never fully recovered.

“We scouted Bemidji (in its 6-0 quarterfinal victory over River Lakes) and changed a few things from last year,” Archibald said. “Bemidji came out and did some of the things we thought they would do and we were ready.

“We also had a couple of good bounces that helped.”

Among the bounces was one that landed on the stick of Aaron Rich at center ice two minutes into the second. Rich turned that opportunity into a 2-on-1 rush with Mitch McLain and, after an exchange of passes, Rich beat goalie Gabe Heifort for the game’s first goal.

Less than two minutes later Brainerd struck again, this time on a faceoff following icing on the Jacks. Mason Severson won the draw to Cole Smith at the right faceoff and Smith found a seam through traffic and past Heifort.

Midway through the stanza the Warriors upped their lead to 3-0 when Rich stole the puck in the Bemidji zone, fed McLain, who was skating through the slot, and McLain lofted a backhander past Heifort.

The goal was McLain’s 36th of the season and broke the single-season program goals record he had shared with Jerr Johnson.

“It means a lot,” McLain said of the record. “I’ve always taken pride in scoring goals. Being it doesn’t happen to everybody, you have to get a few lucky bounces.

“It’s definitely a team record. I’ve played with a lot of good guys over the years. Last year I was pretty close to breaking it. I think it says a lot about our team depth and the chemistry we have.”

The Lumberjacks gained new life with six seconds to play in the second stanza when Bo Borowski’s low shot from the right point was tipped by Jordan Heller past Jared Stearns.

Bemidji gained additional momentum 4:20 into the final period when Matt Serratore battled for space outside the right post and was in position to swat home the rebound of Kole Spencer’s shot from the left point.

Trailing only 3-2, the Jacks continued to apply pressure but Brainerd survived. Stearns denied Tyler Tatro on a blast from the left point and stymied Jordan Heller, who sent a wrister on net from the right circle.

Stearns also was lucky at times, including on the rebound of Heller’s wrister as the puck bounced to the left crease just beyond the reach of Bemidji’s Easton Halbert, who was crashing the net from the left circle.

Bemidji lost the momentum a few minutes later, however, when it took a penalty, and with 4:20 to play Brainerd applied the stranglehold. Logan Rivard intercepted a pass in the Bemidji end, walked in on Heifort and snapped a shot past the freshman goaltender.

Matt Pohlkamp’s open-net goal in the final seconds capped the scoring.

Brainerd 0 3 2 — 5

Bemidji 0 1 1 — 2

First period: No scoring

Second period: Brd, Aaron Rich (Mitch McLain) 1:54. Brd, Cole Smith (Mason Severson) 3:21. Brd, McLain (Rich) 7:55. Bemidji, Jordan Heller (Dillon Eichstadt, Bo Borowski) 16:54

Third period: Bemidji, Matt Serratore (Kole Spencer, Eric Hernesman) 4:20. Brd, Logan Rivard, 12:40; 7, Brd, Matt Pohlkamp (Thomas Stoxen) eng 16:44

Shots: Brd 9-10-8-27; Bem 8-9-8-25

Saves: Brd, Jared Stearns (23 saves); Bem, Gabe Heifort (22 saves)