For the second time in five years, the Minot State Beavers are national champions.
The squad, with two Portagers and five former Terriers, was crowned champions of the American Collegiate Hockey Association after winning four consecutive single-elimination games.
Three of the four contests were decided by just one goal, including the semi-final against Liberty University, where Minot trailed 2-0 after 40 minutes. The Beavers were able to push that game to overtime, and Portage's own Joey Moffatt put home the game-winner.
"That was one of, if not the biggest, goal I've ever scored. It was just right place, right time. Going into the third period of that game, there was a ton of belief in that room. There wasn't a single guy in that room that didn't think we could win that game," Moffatt continues. "We rode that, came back, and then going into overtime, we had all the momentum. The shots ended up 64-31. We were working them the whole game and knew it was just going to take one bounce. I was lucky enough to get that bounce. After the goal, I blacked out, with everyone jumping into me and everything. It was a surreal feeling. I can't even put it into words."
The 3-2 victory over Liberty punched the Beavers' ticket to the tournament final, where they faced off with Adrian College. Adrian's offence was rolling entering this contest, as they scored 22 goals in their first three tournament games while also beating each of their opponents by at least three goals.
"I think there were maybe 30 shots (the game ended with 34 combined shots, 19 for Adrian, 15 for Minot) the whole game. Throughout the tournament, the least amount of shots we had put up against a team was 45. So, we obviously had to change our game a little bit and play a lot of defence," Moffatt explains. "Obviously, you're nervous when it's 0-0 halfway through the game. We got that first one (late in the second period) and rode the belief in that room and on the bench. Jake Anthony played unbelievable in net, and our defence played unbelievable. At that point, you just have to keep it out of your net, and we did the right things to do that."
Moffatt calls this group of teammates his brothers and notes they all have love for one another, which makes winning it all together even more meaningful.
"This (championship) kind of feels different. In Manitoba, you have your ten or twelve teams, and it's amazing to win that but this is just different. We have guys from all over the place," says Moffatt. "We were talking about it in the room before the championship game, you start out with 70+ teams in this league, and everyone is vying to play in that last game. There's only one team that wins their last game of the year. Being able to do that was an unbelievable feeling. You just look around, step back, and watch everyone as they're throwing the trophy into the air. It's a surreal feeling. I can't even put it into words."
Moffatt was not the only Terrier alum to hoist the championship, as Sheldin Howard, Carter Barley, Reece Henry, and Jay Buchholz all played a role in the accomplishment. Portage's own Logan Rands joined the squad midway through the season as well.
The former leading-scorer for his hometown Terriers says it was incredible to share another championship moment with Henry, Buchholz, and Howard (all four were a part of the 2019 Portage Terriers squad that won the Turnbull Cup).
"I was sitting beside Jay Buchholz in the room, and going into that semi-final game, he looked at me and said, 'Game 6 in Swan. We don't lose.' (In the 2019 Turnbull Cup Finals, the Terriers found themselves down 3-2 going into Game 6 in Swan Valley. The Terriers trailed 2-1 in the third before scoring four unanswered goals, two from Buchholz, to send the series back to Portage for Game 7) That lights a fire under you. Us four guys that were on that team lived on that belief. We were there to win, and we had done it before. A lot of the guys in that room had done it before at the junior level. To do that for our nine seniors that aren't going to be coming back next year is unbelievable. The way they took all of us young guys in at the start of the year, it was very nice to do it for them."
The Portager finished the tournament first on the Beavers in scoring with six points in the four games and was also second on the team in scoring in the regular season with 46 (only behind Carter Barley, who had 56).
After winning it all in his rookie year, Moffatt plans to help pave the way for a new generation and hopefully win Minot State their fourth ACHA National Championship in the next few seasons.