Senior forward Conrad Sampair embraces his role as Hill-Murray’s team clown.
“I’m always smiling,” Sampair said. “When people are not happy about things, I’ll find a way to do something crazy.”
He did the improbable in Friday’s Class 2A state tournament semifinal, beating stellar Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer twice as the Pioneers escaped with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Sampair scored off a rebound to tie the game in the third period. He flashed some speed and deft hands on the game-winner. Coming hard to Bitzer’s left, Sampair coasted through the goal mouth and scored so fast officials went to replay to confirm it counted.
“He had a good night,” said Bitzer, one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award given to the state’s outstanding senior goalie. “I opened up just enough and he just slid it past me.”
The goal produced elation to equal the Pioneers’ frustration in the second period. They took charge of the game, outshooting Moorhead 10-5 but found Bitzer equal to the task. Hill-Murray beat Bitzer and the Spuds 6-1 in the regular season finale but Pioneers coach Bill Lechner expected a much different rematch.
“People said it would be a cakewalk but I said, ‘No way,’” Lechner said. “It was going to be a one goal game.”
Moorhead took a lead at 7:34 of the first period as Cody Rahman tipped in a shot from the point by Jacob Uglem. From there, however, the Spuds experienced their own offensive woes. Hill-Murray couldn't solve Bitzer but the Spuds were hardly testing the Pioneers’ John Dugas.
“We quit skating,” Moorhead coach Dave Morinville said. “I felt like I had to have Bitzer score a goal, too.”
While Moorhead got off track late, Sampair needed time to get comfortable.
“He was struggling early,” Lechner said. “I had a talk with him about the 10-minute mark and told him, ‘You are a senior and this is your time. Don’t get down or frustrated. This is your moment. Go live it.’”
On the next shift, Sampair put away a rebound of cousin Charlie Sampair’s wrist shot. Charlie is Conrad’s linemate and one of 10 finalists for Mr. Hockey. The two kid each other behind the scenes about their comparative status.
On Friday, they carried the second line and helped overwhelm Moorhead. Hill-Murray’s speed and urgency had the Spuds reeling. Morinville felt his guys were playing not to lose as the game wore on.
Turnovers resulted in Hill-Murray rushes, which eventually resulted in Sampair’s goal.