Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Grand Rapids Reigns

JWP_4078

Gavin Hain leads his team carrying the Class 2A state championship trophy. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Thunderhawks claim first title in 37 years with win over Moorhead

Grand Rapids forward Gavin Hain scored three times and added an assist to lead his school to its first state championship in 27 years.

In the battle of each team’s top lines, the Thunderhawks’ unit of Hain, Micah Miller and Blake McLaughlin combined for eight points (6-3–9) in a 6-3 Class 2A state championship game win over Moorhead in the first all-northern final since Roseau beat the Thunderhawks 5-1 in 2007.

JWP_4023

Gavin Hain (8) and Blake McLaughlin celebrate Grand Rapids winning a state championship. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

“Pucks were bouncing on my stick and, obviously, I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Hain said. “They were doing the work and the pucks just laid there for me and I was lucky enough to bear down and bury them.”

Grand Rapids coach Trent Klatt found it hard to put his feelings into words.

“I’m just so excited to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes,” Klatt said. “They played hard all year, they sacrificed a lot and they were rewarded tonight.”

Moorhead (24-4-3) suffered its first loss since Dec. 29 and its first loss by more than one goal all season.

“We didn’t have an answer for their top line and our kids did their best,” Moorhead coach John Ammerman said. “We made plenty of plays, just not enough to win.

Grand Rapids (23-7-1) outshot the Spuds 30-27 with Michael Heitkamp adding a pair of assists and goaltender Zach Stejskal stopping 24 Moorhead shots for the win.

The Class 2A title is the first for the Thunderhawks and the first state championship for Grand Rapids since beating Hill-Murray 2-1 in 1980 when it was a single-class tournament. Moorhead is still in search of its first state championship having now lost in the title game for the eighth time.

The Spuds visited Grand Rapids on Feb. 11 and came away with a 4-0 victory. It was the first of two straight late-season losses for the the Thunderhawks who lost 4-1 to Cloquet three days later.

“Anytime you go through the course of a whole season a team’s gonna go through spurts where they’re playing really well and times when they’re not playing so well,” Klatt said.

“We were just in one of our kind of  funks when Moorhead came through,” Klatt said. “We got what we deserved, they spanked us pretty good because they’re a great hockey team. 

“We took that difficult week or two and learned from it and I give the guys a lot of credit to look themselves in the mirror and figure out exactly what each and every one of them had to do to change to get to where we are today.”

Hain got the scoring started with a power play goal 7:26 into the game when his blast from the top of the right circle squeezed between Moorhead goalie Lance Leonard’s pads. McLaughlin’s wrister from nearly the same spot three minutes later made it 2-0 Grand Rapids after one. 

It remained that way until Hain scored twice in a 2:56 span, including the eventual game winner at the 11:48 mark to complete his hat trick.

“It’s a great experience playing with those two guys,” Miller said of his linemates. “I think we all have the same goal and we just worked really hard together and we got some good chemistry and we just built off that.”

JWP_3658

Moorhead’s Cole O’Connell and Grand Rapids’ Jack Burnson battle for a puck in the Class 2A state championship game. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

With the Thunderhawks leading 4-0 in the waning moments of the second period, junior Carter Randklev breathed new life into the Spuds with a snipe from the top of the right circle with 1:15 to go. But Moorhead wasn’t done as its top line of Cole O’Connell, Randklev and Jack Stetz combined on a pretty tic-tac-toe play with Stetz finishing Randklev’s backdoor feed with 16 seconds left to make it 4-2 after two.

But Miler’s goal from between the circles 7:08 into the third boosted Grand Rapids’ lead back to three. Moorhead, however, wasn’t done yet as Jacob Holtgrewe scored two minutes later to make it 5-3. 

The Spuds pressed hard over the game’s final seven minutes but McLaughlin’s empty-net goal with 1:15 remaining put the game out of reach.

“I’m not much of an emotional guy but tonight was going to be sad either way because either we lost or they were done,”a visibly emotional Ammerman said. “I’m not a hugger and I’m not a cryer and I did a lot of both today and that’s what sports can do.”