Second-period explosion lifts Hill-Murray to 5-1 win over Spuds at state hockey tournament

Hill-Murray forward Nate Hardy (10) leaps for joy on a Hill-Murray forward Charlie Strobel (27) goal against Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges (31) during Thursday's Minnesota Class 2A state boys hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. John Autey / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Luke Gramer buried a power-play goal early in the second period and it looked like Moorhead was going to be right back in their Minnesota State Class 2A state boys hockey tournament quarterfinal tilt against Hill-Murray. After the Pioneers scored two goals in the first period, Gramer’s goal made it a one-goal game. But Hill-Murray had other ideas.

The Pioneers scored three goals in the second period, including two in a matter of 14 seconds, as they went on to defeat Moorhead 5-1 on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.

"We got through it down 2 and Luke scores to make it 2-1 and now we've got something to work with," Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman said. "Unfortunately, they made a few more plays. It's a disappointing result, but from start to finish, the better team won."

Gramer , Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist, smashed a shot past Hill-Murray senior goalie Remington Keopple, a finalist for the Frank Brimsek Goalie of the Year Award.

But the Pioneers’ sophomore speedster Nick Pierre answered right back with his second goal a minute later. Jared Jensen threw a shot on goal and Pierre buried the rebound while drifting to his left to make it 3-1.


"We got that goal and we thought we handled their punch and we were going to be able to bounce back," Gramer said. "But when they got that goal, it was heartbreaking."

Jensen added a pair of goals a mere 14 seconds apart to his second-period tally with 5:48 to go before the second intermission. He picked up a pass from Dylan Godbout as he crossed the blue line on a sprint in the slot, skated right in unopposed, and faked forehand and backhand before going forehand to the five-hole for the first goal. The second was nearly identical, but he finished with a top-shelf wrister.

"They are relentless on the puck," Gramer said. "They come in wave after wave after wave and we didn't do much to slow them down."

The Spuds managed only three shots on goal in the second period, while the Pioneers had 19.

Moorhead continued to struggle finding an answer for Pierre, the Pioneers’ leading scorer. He notched a hat trick in two periods in their 4-3 victory over the Spuds in the regular-season finale and added two goals and an assist in the state quarterfinal.

"This is (Pierre's) fourth time playing us," Ammerman said. "He had two tonight so in four games, he has two hat tricks and two goals. That's pretty good for a 10th grader.

"He's a guy you key on, but frankly, it just from start to finish wasn't good. He scored good, but it could have been other guys as well. They were tremendous in transition and we weren't good at holding them up."

Pierre's first goal made it 2-0 for the Pioneers with 6:54 to go in the first period. He picked up a pass from Joe Palodichuk in the defensive zone, flew up the left wing, skated by defenseman Luke Gramer, cut in across the face of the goal and deposited a backhander between the legs of Moorhead goalie Hudson Hodges — also a Brimsek award finalist.


Charlie Strobel gave the Pioneers an early lead 3:45 into the first period. Sophomore defenseman Axel Begley sent a long cross-ice pass to Nate Hardy skating up the right wing. Hardy laid off to Strobel who fired from the top of the right circle to make it 1-0.

Moorhead entered its 17th state tournament with a 21-5-1 record. Four of the Spuds’ five losses came to state tournament teams — Hill-Murray, Andover, Maple Grove, and Warroad. They are the only team in the state tournament with a finalist for both Mr. Hockey (Gramer) and the Frank Brimsek Award (Hodges).

The Spuds made their third state tournament appearance in four years and their second-straight tournament came to an end in the quarterfinals after a 4-2 loss to Edina last season. The made it to the state title game in 2017, losing to Grand Rapids. That was the Spuds fifth championship game appearance after also making it in 1994, 2001, 2004, and 2009.

Entering the tournament, Andover and Moorhead were favored to be playing each other in the semifinals on Friday as the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds respectively. That was half right. They'll face off on Friday, but in the consolation bracket at noon at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Huskies are coached by former Moorhead hockey player Mark Manney.

Thirteen Spuds seniors will finish their preps careers in the consolation bracket.

"The kids are tremendous character kids," Ammerman said. "One thing about this year's team — they were relentless, they competed exceptionally hard. And that's just on the ice. And off the ice they're even more character kids.

"I think our team, despite the disappointment tonight, are poster kids for the state high school league. We have 19-of-20 multisport athletes, our team GPA's a 3.72, we have a kid going to West Point (Kai Holm), we have two valedictorians (Carter Johnson and Holm). Those aren't kids that come around every day."

FIRST: 1, HM, Strobel (Hardy, Begley) 3:45. 2, HM, Pierre (Palodichuk) 10:06.


SECOND: 1, M, Gramer (Triggs, Gess) 2:44. 3, HM, Pierre (Jensen, Strobel) 3:56. 4, HM, Jensen (Godbout) 10:58. 5, HM, Jensen (Godbout, Pierre) 11:12.

THIRD: No scoring.

SAVES: M, Hodges 9-16-4—29, Kunka 0-0-1—1; HM, Keopple 10-2-7—19

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