By Austin Monteith
BRAINERD, Minn. — The Bemidji High School boys hockey team nearly pulled off a stunner to open the Section 8AA playoffs Tuesday night in Brainerd.
The sixth-seeded Lumberjacks — depleted in energy by a flu bug that has swept through the team — were minutes from capturing an upset victory over No. 3 Brainerd.
Having led by as many as two goals, Hunter Olson scored to return a 3-2 lead for the visitors at 6:09 of the third period, only for the Warriors to answer with a pair in the final eight minutes. Eric Pohlkamp deflected home the quarterfinal-winning goal with 2:02 remaining for the 4-3 Brainerd win.
“These kids gave a great effort,” Bemidji head coach Eric Monsrud said. “To have that adversity placed in front of them with that sickness and to play the way that they did just shows the heart and soul of the kids and our team.”
The Jacks, who had so many players out sick Saturday they canceled practice, came out firing in the first period, outshooting the Warriors 13-9.
“They just battled through it,” Monsrud said. “They knew they weren’t feeling well, a lot of these kids that were in the lineup. They took shorter shifts and they just battled through it.”
Ethan Maish gave the upstart Lumberjacks a 1-0 lead 11 minutes, 22 seconds into the contest. Wyatt Halvorson forced a turnover that led to Maish’s tally, which stood as the only goal of the period.
Hunter Marcotte extended the lead to two goals early in the second period. The sophomore received a long pass into the zone and tallied the breakaway goal at the 2:18 mark.
The 2-0 lead lasted until the 10:14 mark of the period when the Warriors finally got on the scoreboard. Wyatt Andres swept in a puck to cut the deficit in half for the home team.
Entering the third period, Nick Hastings fired home the game-tying goal at 4:39 of the frame, leveling the score at 2-2.
Only 90 seconds later, Olson returned the lead to Bemidji. The senior captain buried a power-play goal off a faceoff win with 10:51 to play.
However, the Warriors tied the game once more with Gavin Andres poking in a power-play goal through traffic at 9:16 of the period.
Overtime was barely two minutes away when Brainerd took its first lead of the game. On the power play, Pohlkamp deflected Mason Kruse’s shot for the game-winning goal with just 2:02 remaining.
Facing their first deficit of the game, the Lumberjacks were unable to find a late equalizer with the goalie pulled, suffering a 4-3 defeat.
Jacks netminder Broc Waldhausen braved a barrage of shots through the final two periods, making 41 saves on 45 shots.
“He saw a lot of vulcanized rubber tonight and he stood the test, that’s for sure,” Monsrud said.
Bemidji ends its season with an 8-16-1 record, while Brainerd improves to 17-9 and advances to the section semifinals.
“It was a little bit of a roller-coaster season, but in the end we weren’t on that roller coaster anymore and we were starting to play some good hockey,” Monsrud said. “I’m just glad that when we got to the playoffs here that everyone stepped up and played playoff hockey.”
Brainerd 4, Bemidji 3
BEM 1 1 1 — 3
BRD 0 1 3 — 4
First period — 1, BEM, Maish (Halvorson), 11:22.
Second period — 2, BEM, Marcotte (Olson, McNamara), 2:18; 3, BRD, Wy. Andres (M. Kruse), 10:14.
Third period — 4, BRD, Hastings (We. Andres), 4:39; 5, BEM, Olson (Dondelinger), 6:09, PP; 6, BRD, G. Andres (Pohlkamp, Wy. Andres), 9:16, PP; 7, BRD, Pohlkamp (M. Kruse), 14:58, PP.
Goalies (saves-shots) — BEM, Waldhausen (41-45); BRD, Saiko (21-24).