Advancing onward

Shift after shift, shot after shot, the Minot High boys hockey team couldn’t get the puck past Mandan goaltender Sawyer Schmidt.

The freshman goaltender was single-handedly keeping the seventh-seeded Braves’ chances of upsetting the No. 2-seeded Magicians in the first round of the West Region tournament alive.

Schmidt finished with 46 saves, but Minot junior forward Matt Flom drilled two shots the Mandan netminder was unable to save as the Magicians defeated the Braves 2-0 on Thursday at All Seasons Arena. Minot advanced to play third-seeded Century in the semifinals tonight at 7:30.

“He’s got a nose for the net,” Minot coach Chad Burckhard said of Flom. “Pucks find him at the right time. When he gets a chance to finish, he finishes. Two years in a row top five in the state in scoring as a sophomore and now as a junior. He’s proven himself as a goal scorer. He knows how to get to the dirty areas.”

Flom broke a scoreless stalemate at 1:37 of the second period on a 2-on-1. Skating down the left side of the ice, Flom attempted to feed senior forward Quinn Fuchs with a cross-crease pass, only to have the puck deflect off a Mandan skater and come right back onto his stick. Schmidt had no chance on Flom’s goal as the Mandan goaltender had slid over expecting the puck to come to Fuchs in the slot.

“It was getting pretty tense, but we knew that we just had to come out and keep working and eventually we’d put one home,” Flom said.

The Magicians (15-6-1) took a 1-0 lead into the second intermission despite holding a 27-9 shot advantage over the Braves. It was unfamiliar territory for Minot against Mandan as the Magicians won both regular-season meetings 5-1.

“We knew coming into this game, for us to get a big win against Minot, our goaltender had to be our best player and he was,” Mandan coach Matt Mullally said. “He played his best game of the year, no question about that. We just didn’t create enough chances. A game like that, we’re going to get outshot, but we have to take advantage of scoring chances.”

As the clock ticked down to the game’s final minutes, Mandan (6-15) was only a shot away from tying the contest despite its offense being held in check all night. The Braves finished with 10 shots – a total Minot reached at the end of the first period – but the thought of Minot being one bad bounce from playing in a loser-out game today had Burckhard a bit nervous.

“You look at the clock at the five-minute mark in the third period and it’s scary,” he said. “They’re just one shot away from an adrenaline rush. But I’m pretty proud of our guys. Defensively, we locked down and held them to 10 shots. Collectively, as a five-man defensive unit, we did a nice job.”

Flom’s second goal with 1:20 left had the Minot bench breathing a bit easier. Minot freshman defenseman Easton Bennett slipped a pass through traffic from the far-side faceoff circle to Flom to the right of Schmidt. Flom fired a one-timer past a sprawling Schmidt to give the Magicians a two-goal lea, deflating Mandan’s hopes of an upset.

Schmidt recorded 20 saves in the third period, six shy of the tournament record set back in 2005 by Dickinson’s Alex Koppinger.

“He was athletic,” Burckhard said. “I think we got two penalties tonight going into him. It’s not like we made life easy on him. That young man earned everything he did tonight. He kept his team in the hockey game.”

The Braves had just one shot on goal in the final period.

Despite registering just four shots in the first period, Mandan had the best scoring opportunity of the frame when forward Colton Murphy got behind Minot’s defensemen on a breakaway. But Murphy’s shot went wide of Minot junior goaltender Breydan Effertz and both teams went into the first intermission scoreless.

The Braves play Dickinson in a loser-out game today at 1:30 p.m.

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.