Cougars fall in semifinals, will play for third

Lakeville South took the lead but couldn’t keep it as Moorhead rallied to win 3-2 Friday night and deny the Cougars a place in the state Class AA boys hockey championship game.

Defenseman Joshua Ess scored late in the third period, but it wasn't enough to bring Lakeville South all the way back against Moorhead. The Cougars lost 3-2 in the Class AA boys hockey semifinals Friday night. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Defenseman Joshua Ess scored late in the third period, but it wasn’t enough to bring Lakeville South all the way back against Moorhead. The Cougars lost 3-2 in the Class AA boys hockey semifinals Friday night. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Moorhead (24-3-3) will face Grand Rapids in an all-northern Minnesota championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. This is the first time in 10 years both Class AA finalists are from outside the metro area. Lakeville South (19-10-1) plays Eden Prairie for third place at 4 p.m., also at the Xcel Center.

Lakeville South outplayed Moorhead in the first period of their semifinal game Friday night and fired 21 shots on goal in the third, but it was the middle period that gave the Cougars problems. Moorhead scored twice in the second period to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Moorhead looked jittery handling the puck in its defensive zone in the first period, and it eventually cost the Spuds. Joe Novak grabbed the puck after a Moorhead turnover, put a shot on goal, and junior Zachary Bauer knocked in the rebound, giving Lakeville South a 1-0 lead at 15:16.

Moorhead took the lead in the second period on goals by junior forwards Jack Stetz and Carter Randklev. Stetz scored on a rebound after South goalie Isaiah DiLaura made the initial save on Cole O’Connell. Randklev got his goal on a Moorhead power play after Cougars forward Cory Checco was penalized for boarding.

About four minutes into the third period, Moorhead forward Kyler Kleven chipped the puck past a South defenseman, creating a 2-on-1 rush. Kleven kept the puck and fired a wrist shot just below the crossbar, giving the Spuds a two-goal lead.

Several minutes later, Moorhead goalie Lance Leonard turned away a chance by Jake Oelrich after Bradley Golant put the puck on Oelrich’s stick in front of the net. He also stopped a dangerous chance by South defenseman Joshua Ess after Ess stickhandled past a Moorhead player.

Ess breathed some life back into the Cougars when, with DiLaura on the bench for a sixth skater, he scored on a wrist shot from the top of the circle with 1:27 remaining. Novak, who won a faceoff in the Moorhead zone, got an assist. The Cougars managed one more shot on goal in the 6-on-5 situation, but Leonard stopped it.

This will be the eighth appearance in the state final for the Spuds, who are 0-7 in championship games. The last time they played for the Class AA title was 2009, when they lost to Eden Prairie 3-0.

Lakeville South is in the third-place game for the second time in three trips to state. The last time the Cougars were at state in 2012, they beat Moorhead 2-1 for third place.

Saturday’s game will be the last in a Cougar uniform for 11 Lakeville South seniors.