For the second straight year, the Minot High boys hockey team advanced to the West Region championship and for the second straight year it saw its opponent celebrate a championship at All Seasons Arena.
Like it had in its loss to Century in last year's title game, the Magicians grabbed the early lead against Bismarck only to see the Demons come back in the final two periods and grab the region crown with a 5-2 victory Saturday.
The victory keeps the championship trophy in the state capital for the eighth straight year. It's Bismarck's sixth region title in eight years and 10th overall. The Magicians were seeking their first championship since 2006. They will face Grand Forks Red River the East Region No. 3 seed on Thursday in the first round of the state tournament in Grand Forks.
Minot High senior defenseman Taran Albright skates the puck into the offensive zone in front of Bismarck’s Cody Evanson on Saturday in the West Region championship game at All Seasons Arena.
It was a typical Minot-Bismarck hockey game: penalties, jawing and bruising hits. The teams combined for 20 penalties totaling 50 minutes.
"It's a good rivalry," Bismarck coach Mike Peluso said. "A lot of stuff going on, obviously a lot of penalties. We just kind of weathered a lot of them and we're fortunate to get the win."
As they have throughout the tournament, the Magicians scored the first goal of the game and, as was the case the night before, it came off the stick of senior forward Quinn Fuchs. The team captain fired a rebound from the slot past Bismarck goaltender Brett Malkmus at 9:49 of the first. Minot junior forward Matt Flom had the initial shot that came out in front on Malkmus' save. Minot junior forward Brent Williams was in perfect position to knock in the rebound, but he whiffed the shot, allowing the puck to come cleanly to Fuchs.
The Magicians led 1-0 at the first intermission and held an 8-4 shot advantage.
Bismarck was its own worst enemy at times, taking penalties while on the power play. It began at the end of the first period and continued well into the second. On their second power play of the game, the Demons coaching staff drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the first period for arguing a slashing non-call on Minot.
"There just wasn't any flow to that hockey game," Minot coach Chad Burckhard said. "It was just ugly hockey. Couple of good hockey teams and unfortunately neither team could get under control. A penalty-filled hockey game took the fun out of it for pretty much everybody."
The Demons' third power-play opportunity was again cut short by an undisciplined penalty with 12:02 left in the second. Bismarck's Cole Olson cross-checked Fuchs into the back of the Demon's net, wiping out 1:09 of penalty time.
But when Bismarck got to showcase its power play without going to the box itself, it was difficult to stop. The Demons scored on consecutive tries with the man advantage to give them a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
"There a couple things that didn't go our way and instead of playing through it, we made excuses for ourselves and sometimes you have to learn how to play in big games and this was a big hockey game," Burckhard said. "We just didn't do enough to get enough bounces. We didn't move our feet well enough. I don't think we established a forecheck the second half of the game.
Quinn Irey scored the equalizer at 8:53 of the second period on a one-timer from the left faceoff circle off a cross-ice pass from Jared Spooner. Johnny Witzke put Bismarck in front in the final minute of the second when he redirected a Stephen Dora slap shot from the blue line. It was the first time the Magicians had trailed in the tournament.
"That's something we've been working hard on this year because we have some pretty good personnel," Peluso said. "This year we have some high-skilled guys who can do some different things. They scored big goals when we needed them."
The Demons iced the game with two goals in less than two minutes late in the third period. Cody Evanson scored the game-winner with 5:09 left, capitalizing on a Minot turnover in its defensive end. Spooner gave Bismarck a 4-1 lead with 3:12 remaining.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.