There’s no denying Moorhead’s Thomas Carey had a game-changing performance Saturday scoring three points in his team’s 3-0 win over Roseau in the Class 2A, Section 8 semifinals.
Carey scored a late goal in the second period breaking a scoreless tie. He then added two more assists in the third period sending the Spuds to the Section 8AA finals where they will face Brainerd on Thursday at the Sanford Center in Bemidji.
Much has been made of Carey’s game, but don’t forget Moorhead’s defense. Roseau opened the game with 10 shots in the first period but were then limited to eight shots over the next two periods.
“Not only the defense, but the forwards helped us out with backchecking,” said Spuds senior defenseman Terry Leabo. “We just tried to play the body, angling them to the boards and having the forwards pick up guys in the slot.”
Leabo and defensive partner, Ben Welle, said the key to beating Roseau was staying in front of their forwards.
Roseau’s forwards are led by Alex Strand, a shifty sophomore who already has several colleges interested in him.
Leabo and Welle said Moorhead coach Dave Morinville told his entire defense to stay in front of Strand and the rest of Roseau’s forwards. Staying in front, Leabo and Welle said, allowed the Spuds’ defense to dictate where the Rams could move on the ice leading to a lot of long range shots and easy saves for goaltender Michael Bitzer.
“We knew that Roseau with Strand and (Alex) Yon, we knew they like to beat people one-on-one so it was important to take the body,” Welle said. “Its kind of hard but you have to watch their body and not focus on the puck. When you focus on the puck, it allows you to get burned.”
Executing the strategy almost made Bitzer a non-factor, which is a far cry from last season’s team.
Moorhead reached last season’s state tournament because of how Bitzer played. He was relied upon and during last year’s postseason run made 58 saves on 61 shots to help Moorhead make its way to the Xcel Energy Center.
Bitzer made 25 saves in last season’s section semifinal win over Roseau.
Yet through two games this season, he’s made whopping grand total of 25 saves altogether. Throw in the lack of shots plus not playing in the third period of Moorhead’s opening round win and he’s received a lot more rest than he ever did last season.
“I’m not surprised,” Bitzer said about his recent lack of work. “I feel like when we come into a game really focused and focus our attention on a team, we are one of the best teams in the state.”
Morinville added Bitzer’s night could have actually been easier.
He said many of Roseau’s shots in the first period came due to Moorhead turning over the puck. Moorhead did have its moments where an errant pass among other things resulted into Roseau getting more puck possession.
“We knew we were going to have to play it tight and with the adjustments we made, I think we just realized we had to go out and pick up people,” said Morinville, who has now won five straight over rival Roseau. “We also had our forwards take accountability and not let our defense hang out to dry. I think when you look at our depth at this time of year, it’s a nice thing to have.”