With a 3-1 lead in the 76th minute, it looked as if the Bulldogs would cap off their perfect regular season with another win over Polson.
But the Pirates wouldn’t have that, and Mack Moderie scored two of his three goals in the final minutes to bring the match to a tie.
The Bulldogs still won the Northwest A conference title outright, and despite the tie, head coach John Lacey said he’s happy with his team’s performance in the tight match.
“They rose to the environment,” Lacey said. “It was a big night, their homecoming and senior night. It’s always a fun place to play under the lights. And they’re a good team. Polson has a number of good guys, and they tested us for sure.”
Xander Burger got the scoring started in the 33rd minute, and Ian Lacey added another early in the second half.
Moderie — Class A’s leading scorer with 27 goals — netted his first goal in the 69th minute, though Casey Schneider answered with a goal for Whitefish several minutes later.
While the exciting ending to that match isn’t exactly what he was hoping for, Lacey said his team will need to learn from it if they want another big playoff push.
“At this point, every game is do or die. We’re going to get frantic endings potentially if we don’t build cushions, so there’s a lot to learn about how to close out a game. Our team is still young,” Lacey said. “So I think that experience of having to hold on and play out those last 10 minutes is going to be very valuable for us, because frankly it could come up in any of the next three games with much greater consequences than what we had in Polson.”
“We knew in Polson that after a certain point the result wasn’t going to matter for our standings, but I think the boys realized when they got in that situation that they really wanted to dig their heels in and defend what they thought was going to be their win,” Lacey added. “The fact it ended a tie and not a win, I think that’s disappointment for them. We don’t want ties in these next games, we want wins.”
Earlier in the week the Dogs blew out Bigfork in an 8-1 win.
Six different players scored for Whitefish in the match, with Schneider and Burger both notching a pair of goals apiece. Sam Menicke, Lacey, Brandon Mendoza and Chase Sabin all added to the scoring for Whitefish.
The Dogs outshot Bigfork on goal 20-5.
Whitefish will open postseason play on Saturday, hosting Livingston Park at Smith Fields at 11 a.m.
Earlier in the season the Dogs got a 4-0 result against Park, and Lacey said he’s expecting a similar performance from his team this weekend.
“They’re a very senior heavy team, so it’s going to be a very physical match for sure. We had good success against those teams from the east. They scored a lot of goals this year, they have a pretty potent attack,” he said.
Moving forward, Lacey said his team’s best defense might even be their offense.
“Our team loves to score goals, so one of the ways we’re going to approach every game going forward is that the best defense we can have is to keep the ball, and if they’re going to score against us they’ll need to go the length of the field because we’ll be starting in their end in the first place,” Lacey said. “That’ll continue to be true [Saturday] for sure.”
Bigfork 0 1 — 1 Whitefish 6 2 — 8
W — Casey Schneider (Ammann Koch-Ford), 9:00
W — Xander Burger (Schneider), 12:00
W — Burger (Ian Lacey), 14:00
W — Schneider (Lacey), 20:00
W — Sam Menicke, PK, 21:00
W — Lacey (Brandon Mendoza), 23:00
W — Mendoza (Gabe Menicke), 42:00
W — Chase Sabin (Riley Arndt), 59:00
B — Chayton Troesh-Worrell, 77:00
Shots on goal — Bigfork 5, Whitefish 20; Corner kicks — Bigfork 2, Whitefish 9; Keeper saves — Bigfork 12 (Caden Riedesel), Whitefish 4 (Colter Upton, Will Peppmeier); Fouls — Bigfork 2, Whitefish 2; Cards — None.
Whitefish 1 2 – 3
Polson 0 3 – 3
W – Xander Burger (Gabe Menicke), 33:00
W – Ian Lacey (Ammann Koch-Ford), 48:00
P - Mack Moderie (Robin Erickson), 69:00
W – Casey Schneider, 76:00 P – Moderie, 77:00
P – Moderie (penalty kick), 79:00
Shots on goal – Whitefish 7, Polson 10; Corner kicks – Whitefish 1, Polson 3; Keeper saves – Whitefish 7 (Colter Upton), Polson 4 (Kaden Nelson); Fouls – Whitefish 10, Polson 8; Cards – Whitefish 1 yellow, Polson 2 yellow.