State hockey: Top talent leads Grand Rapids past Moorhead for 2A title – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press
Likely the most talented line in Minnesota high school hockey put on a show to be remembered on the state’s biggest stage Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
Senior forward Micah Miller and junior forwards Blake McLaughlin and Gavin Hain — all three Division I commits — were responsible for all six Grand Rapids goals in the Thunderhawks’ 6-3 win over Moorhead in the Class 2A state title game.
Hain, a North Dakota commit, was the main act, scoring three of Grand Rapids’ first four goals as the Thunderhawks built a 4-0 lead in the second period.
The other goal in that stretch belonged to McLaughlin, a Gophers commit, who banked a laser off the pipe and in from the right circle.
But don’t forget Miller, the electric line’s lone senior, a Mr. Hockey finalist and a St. Cloud State commit. He’s the one who essentially put the game away. Moorhead (24-4-3) scored twice in a span of a minute late in the second period to make things interesting, but Miller removed the any doubt in the end result with a snipe from the slot to restore the Thunderhawks’ cushion to 5-2 with 10 minutes to play.
Then, fittingly, McLaughlin poured in the empty-netter to make it 6-3 with 76 seconds to play.
“Obviously we didn’t have an answer for their top line,” Spuds coach Jon Ammerman said. “Obviously they’re big-time players. There’s a reason they’re highly touted.”
Those three finished the season with a combined 77 goals and 110 assists. Yes, Grand Rapids has a lot more talent than just those three. That was on display as a bevy of role players stepped up in the Thunderhawks’ upset win over top-seeded Eden Prairie in Friday’s semifinals. But the big players stepped up in the big moments of the biggest game.
“It’s a great experience playing with those two guys,” Miller said. “It’s been a really fun year. I think e all had the same goal and we worked really hard together. We got some good chemistry and we just built off that. It was just really fun.”
Thunderhawks coach Trent Klatt played with lines toward the end of the season, but he didn’t tinker with anything this weekend at the X. He kept his best together, and his best produced.
“When you can throw three guys like this out there on the ice, they do things that I can’t teach them,” he said. “They have it inside of them. They’re creative and passionate and all that, so they get all the credit.”
Klatt was frank Friday night when asked about about Grand Rapids’ 4-0 regular-season loss to Moorhead in February.
“We got exactly what we deserved,” Klatt said. “We got scrubbed by them.”
But Klatt didn’t sound like a man who thought that’d be the case in Saturday night’s Class 2A final. Grand Rapids was in a different place in mid-February, Klatt said.
“I’m not going to go through some of the things that were happening,” he said, “because it would sound like I’m making up excuses.”
No need. The Thunderhawks provided all the proof needed Saturday. A lot has changed between then and now, as Grand Rapids went from the No. 4 seed in Section 7 to the state title.
Miller said the team got tighter and tighter as sections went on and “we really started to build on something.” Klatt gave his players credited from learning from their struggles and figuring out what each individual had to do to change.
“That’s the way it fit this year,” Klatt said. “I saw my players do things in the last two days that quite frankly I haven’t seen them do all year. Stuff that we’ve been trying to teach them and reminding them of.”
The shots were close Saturday — 30-27 in favor of Grand Rapids — but the Thunderhawks (23-7-1) controlled play from the get-go, and the scoreboard reflected it.
“We were playing our best hockey,” Klatt said. “Tonight and last night was our best hockey that we’ve played all year. And I guess the best time to play your best is down here. … I can’t be more happier than watching these guys do what was asked of them, to compete as hard as they did. They just feed off that internal passion and flame that they have for the game of hockey.”
Klatt briefly resigned following last season’s state tournament appearance, only to be persuaded days later to stay on the job.
After Saturday’s game went final, he raised his arms in celebration, certainly happy he stayed on board.
“I don’t even know how to put this feeling into words,” Klatt said. “I’m just so excited to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes.”
After the game, it sounded like Klatt will stick around Grand Rapids for years to come.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
The state title is Grand Rapids’ fourth but first since 1980 and first since the two-class system was adopted in 1991. The Thunderhawks are a Class A school by enrollment but play up to Class 2A.
Grand Rapids is one of Minnesota’s great high school hockey fan bases. Thousands pour into the IRA Civic Center for Thunderhawks’ home games and hundreds travel to the team’s road games throughout the season.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment to our community,” senior defenseman John Stampohar said. “It’s been 37 years since we hoisted a championship banner in the IRA. We had a big loving support from our community, they helped us out a lot and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
The title game loss was Moorhead’s eighth in as many tries.
“We came here to win the darn thing,” Ammerman said. “We came up short.”
Attendance for the Saturday night session was 19,109. Attendance for the entire tournament at Xcel Energy Center was 114,245.