Session 3 Recap: Hill-Murray/Maple Grove and Moorhead/Eagan

Game 5

Hill-Murray Pioneers 5 - 2 Maple Grove Crimson

Good matchup to open the Class AA tournament. Both Hill-Murray and Maple Grove have exceptional talent on their top two lines. Both teams came out skating well, but it was the Crimson who struck first when Alex Mason ripped a shot over the shoulder of John Dugas. The experience of Hill-Murray was evident though, as the Pioneers were able to bounce back quickly and score two goals to take ther first lead of the afternoon. The teams traded some decent chances through the rest of the period, with Maple Grove having 5 or 6 good looks in tight on Dugas, but the Pioneer defense held strong. Pioneers go into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.

The 2nd period was a pretty balanced frame. The Crimson seemed to have the better scoring chances early, but John Dugas was a man possessed, somehow robbing a pair of prime scoring chances. A goofy goal for Hill-Murray came when Zach LaValle poke-checked the puck off of a Crimson defender's stick and in. The Pioneers stretched their lead to 3 when a Crimson penalty put a very good offensive powerplay to work. The physical play also picked up in the 2nd, as both teams laid some massive hits on each other. Maple Grove would have to start the 3rd period in a 4-1 hole.

The Crimson looked like they were going to have an early opportunity to cut into the lead when hard work (Sorry, Tom) led to a Maple Grove powerplay, but the Pioneers exploited the weakness of an umbrella powerplay and went 2-on-1 the other direction, leading to the Pioneer's 5th goal, courtesy of Jake Guentzel. With time running out, the Crimson began to press against Hill-Murray and were rewarded with a late-period goal to cut the lead to 5-2. The attempted comeback would be halted by a penalty, finishing this game off.

The Pioneers take this game and will move on to the Class AA Semifinal. Hill-Murray is the first team to score an upset at Xcel for The Tournament. All four of the Class A seeded teams dispatched their competition fairly easily. The Pioneers finally gave a seeded team a tough game.

Game 6

Moorhead Spuds 4 - 0 Eagan Wildcats

Like the first Class AA Semifinal, this pitted a team that's fairly new to the State Tournament (Eagan) against a tournament perennial (Moorhead). The Wildcats, however, did qualify last year, so they know about the Xcel atmosphere. The opening frame was a very good demonstration of defensive gap control. Neither Eagan nor Moorhead was willing to allow the opposing forwards too much time and space. Lots of clean hits and tough, physical play highlighted the period. Eagan had a great chance to break the tie when Merchant and Zajac were two-on-one. Zajac fed Merchant, who had a just about all of the net to shoot and and missed wide. Outside of that, there weren't a lot of Grade-A scoring chances. The period ended tied at 0, making this the first game of the tournament that had a scoreless first period.

The defensive battle would continue going into the 2nd period. The big difference in this frame was that Eagan was finally able to get their forecheck going and putting pressure on the Spuds. Michael Bitzer made big save after big save, keeping Moorhead in the game as Eagan began to mount a full attack. Bitzer held his team in long enough for Moorhead to finally get on the offensive, and the Spuds broke the tie. Jesse Doschadis tapped home a juicy rebound into an open net, giving Moorhead the first lead of the afternoon. Bitzer made the goal stand up through the 2nd period. Moorhead went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead on the strength of incredible goaltending.

It was more of the same for the Spuds to open the 3rd period. Moorhead took a tripping penalty, but Bitzer and the PK units went to work, keeping the Wildcats off the board. An Eagan slashing penalty gave the Spuds their turn on the powerplay, but unlike the Wildcats, the Spuds made it count. A great cross-ice pass found an open Logan Ness, who made no mistake. With the way Bitzer was playing in net, a 2-0 lead seemed insurmountable. It only got worse for Eagan when Ness got behind the defense, took a perfect stretch pass, and walked in on Butler alone. A well-placed shot meant that Moorhead had a 3-0 lead, which might as well have been a 10-0 lead considering how Bitzer was playing. The Spuds were able to stretch the lead on a PP goal by getting dirty in front of the net. On the scoring play, Nick Kuchera took a 5-minute major for contact to the head. Eagan was now down 4-0 and would be shorthanded for the rest of regulation. The last few minutes were just played out, as the Wildcats were done.

The Spuds will move on to battle the Hill-Murray Pioneers in the first Class AA Semifinal. If Michael Bitzer continues this play, then Moorhead will have an opportunity to beat anyone. Eagan threw everything but the kitchen sink at him, and he stood tall. Both Class AA seeded teams were upset in Session 5. Like I said...parody, thy name is Class AA.

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