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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/9/2012 10:35:58 PM

By Luke Sleeper

Before Hill-Murray senior forward Conrad Sampair found the back of the net midway through the third period of Friday’s Class 2A semifinal game with Moorhead, Spuds goalie Michael Bitzer had been impenetrable. Bitzer had been the talk of the tournament up to that point and rightfully so; before Sampair’s goal, he was en route to a second consecutive shutout in the state tournament.

Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner preached aggressiveness to his players after two periods of scoreless play from his team. The message certainly rung clear to the Pioneers, who outshot Moorhead 12-1 in the third period.

Sampair had Bitzer’s number once again in overtime, taking the puck from the wide boards and cutting right in front of Bitzer, successfully finding a narrow opening to net the game-winner for the Pioneers. A short review and a wave of the official’s hand later, it was confirmed that Hill-Murray was moving on to Saturday night’s championship game.

“Part of me knew it was in right away and part of me had no clue,” Sampair said. “I was ready to go back out there and (score) again but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would do if (the goal) counted.”

Early on in the game it was Moorhead that seemed in control. The first period was a combination of what Lechner called “nervous” play by Hill-Murray and an exchange of big hits good enough to make any highlight reel. When the dust settled, Moorhead had a 1-0 lead behind a goal from senior Cody Rahman. Although the Pioneers were racking up hits, they were not having much luck breaking Bitzer.

Aggressive checking and aggressive shooting brought Hill-Murray back into the game. It was a certain big check by Pioneers senior defenseman Blake Heinrich that finally shifted momentum in his team’s favor, according to Sampair.

“Blake’s big hit, that’s what got me going,” he said. “Before that I wasn’t really feeling it. Once I saw his hit, I started laying some bodies and I think that affected the whole team.”

Hill-Murray will be making its 10th appearance in a state championship game since 1980. The Pioneers won state championships in 1983, 1991 and 2008.

--Luke Sleeper is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota


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