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Boys Hockey: Warriors bump off Class 2A's 10th-ranked Spuds

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Brainerd celebrates a goal by Brady Anderson (22) Thursday against Moorhead at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video2 / 3
Brainerd’s Jack Evans handles the puck Thursday against Moorhead at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video3 / 3

One of the state's most electric lines skated into Essentia Health Sports Center Thursday with 79 points through 15 games.

But dynamic playmaker Carter Randklev and linemates Cole O'Connell and Jack Stetz were tethered by the Brainerd defense and the Warriors' offense delivered a rousing 5-0 victory.

It was Brainerd's first shutout of Class 2A's 10th-ranked Spuds, who were the state runners-up last year, in the 56-game series between the schools. Moorhead entered the game with the ninth-best Quality Results Formula in 2A, while Brainerd was 13th.

The Warriors won despite putting Moorhead on the power play seven times and getting outshot 32-23. The victory tied Brainerd with the Spuds for the best Section 8-2A record (5-1).

"We have to just keep getting better, keep rolling," Warriors head coach Dave Aus said. "They're obviously a good team. We just were clicking tonight. It was just a solid win. Really it was pretty convincing.

"Honestly, I don't understand why we were on the kill so much. That made the game a lot harder than it needed to be and honestly I thought that was a little bit over the top. Randklev can really do damage. A couple times he gets it and you're just kind of holding your breath."

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Warriors 5, Moorhead 0

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Brainerd senior center Matt Fischer had a 4-point night with a goal and three assists. Senior wing Jack Evans flicked in two goals and Brady Anderson and Luke Johnson netted the others.

Kleffman was brilliant between the pipes, stopping 32 shots. He was outstanding in the second during which Brainerd had to kill three penalties.

"Kleffman was great, especially when we got to 3-0, then they had a little bit of a push," Aus said. "He just kind of did what he needed to. He was not tremendous, and I'm not saying he was bad Tuesday (in a 5-4 overtime win at St. Cloud) but he wasn't great. We knew we wanted to come back with him again tonight because he's our guy.

"We thought about pulling him Tuesday, but I knew if I did that it may be a little testy here tonight. We just stayed with him Tuesday, he got the win, and tonight he was great."

The Warriors came out buzzing, scoring three times in the first and adding two in the third, unlike the season opener when they were drilled 6-1 at Moorhead.

"We struggled right away, kind of the first five minutes tonight, and I don't know what the deal was," Fischer said. "Once we got the first one, the short-handed goal, I think we started to believe.

"I think the difference here today was not only did we have great support from the fans and the guys were excited about the game. The first time we played them we had the football guys coming back, we didn't play our system well. Today the guys bought in. They knew what the task at hand was and got the job done."

Randklev, who's bound for the University of North Dakota, O'Connell and Stetz entered the game with a combined 34 goals. Fischer thought a change in Brainerd's forecheck and matching up with Moorhead's top guns were the difference Tuesday.

"We got the guys we wanted out there against them," Fischer said. "We made sure we had a third guy high at all times so they never outnumbered us coming back on the rush. We had a lot of guys talking on the bench, communicating, telling guys where guys were, making sure we could see guys coming in the zone. I think that's what did it tonight was our effort getting back on the rush and then finding guys."

After scuffling with the Spuds' smothering forecheck early, Brainerd finally got its offense in gear. Evans lit the lamp first at 9:07. While a man short, Fischer pasted a Spuds player against the boards, slipped the puck to a streaking Evans who lifted the disc under the crossbar behind 6-foot-3, 205-pound Moorhead goalie Lance Leonard.

Evans scored his second goal of the game at 13:59 rapping in a rebound of a Westin Andres shot.

Less than two minutes later, Anderson smacked in a rebound with assists earned by Kruse and Fischer.

Johnson put Brainerd up 4-0 with a power-play backhander of a rebound at 5:42 of the third. Fischer put an exclamation point on the victory with a shorty at 12:40 of the third.

Moorhead outshot the Warriors 12-6 in a scoreless second. Kleffman had to block several point-blank shots during the period.

Brainerd, 10-4 overall, is at Fergus Falls next Thursday before playing at top-ranked Duluth East the next day.

"The boys did a good job tonight," Aus said. "They bought in. We've got a long way to go. We get Duluth East next Friday. We can't lay an egg. We've got to go in there thinking we can win because we can. We're good enough to do it. It's just a culture of getting over that idea that we can't and I don't know why we have that because we're good enough to win."

Moorhead 3 0 0—0

Brainerd 3 0 2—5

First period: B-Jack Evans (Matt Fischer) 9:07; B-Evans (Westin Andres) 13:59; B-Brady Anderson (Mason Kruse, Fischer) 15:52

Third period: B-Luke Johnson (Anderson, Fischer) ppg 5:42; B-Fischer shg12:40

Shots on goal: Brd 7-6-10--23, M 8-12-12--32

Goalies: Brd-Colin Kleffman (32 saves); M-Lance Leonard (18 saves).