Crookston's 2012-13 season run came to an end at the sticks of East Grand Forks Saturday as the Green Wave downed the Pirates 4-1 in the Section 8A semifinals in East Grand Forks.
Also, following the loss, longtime Pirate head coach Jon Bittner announced he is resigning after 39 years of coaching high school hockey in northwest Minnesota.
"Our kids played hard," coach Bittner said. "They gave a great showing for themselves and left it out on the ice. There wasn't anyone who didn't give everything they had."
Regarding his resignation, Bittner said it's time for new energy.
"When you're the head coach of a program you're just a caretaker," he explained. "You make sure the program and high school hockey is going in the direction that allows the team to be competitive with other teams and allows players to be competitive with other athetes. In last decade the Blue Line Club, and the developmental club, the City of Crookston and a new facility have taken this program to the modern era. From high school to the youth programs we are more competitive in all areas. It bodes well for the future. It's time to transition, giving the program over to others who will take it to the next level, and that level is forward not backward."
On Saturday, the Pirates jumped out to a lead 30 seconds into their first power play when senior forwards Ryan Edevold and Brady Heppner found senior defenseman Ryan Bittner at the top of the right circle. Bittner one-timed a blast that found the net at the 5:44 mark.
East Grand Forks answered just 15 seconds later, though, on an unassisted goal by Eddie Eades.
Just when it looked like the teams would head into the second period deadlocked at one, Tommy Hajicek found the net with one second left on assists by Kolton Aubol and Tye Ausmus.
"The goal they scored with one second, I didn't feel our kids...we still had two periods to play," coach Bittner said. "Even though East Grand Forks held a territorial advantage in the second it was still 2-1 going into the third."
The teams battled to a scoreless second period with the Pirates unable to capitalize on the only power play, which stretched into the third.
Crookston earned another man advantage early in the third but was unable to tie the game.
Then, with 11:11 remaining Tanner Tweten punched in a goal on an assist from Grant Loven.
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Following another scoreless Pirate power play the Green Wave capitalized on a man advantage to put the game away with a goal by Colton Poolman and assists from Tweten and Dixon Bowen.
Tanner Lindstrom recorded 13 saves in goal for the Green Wave, while Parker Epema finished with 27 for the Pirates.
"They are a very good club and well coached with a good run of athletes coming through that play at a high level," Bittner said of the Green Wave. "We took the middle away and a lot of their shots came from the perimeter and outside. Both clubs concentrated on the defensive side."
Crookston graduates a talented senior class of ten on the playoff roster.
"They can look back at their senior year with a lot of great memories and smile," said Bittner. "They achieved a lot this year and turned some people's heads. Some will advance their careers and play juniors and go on to play college. They'll be able to look back with great memories but look to the future too."
As for Bittner himself, he feels he is leaving the program in a good state.
"There are a lot of good people in positions and this is an exciting time for Crookston Hockey, it really is," he said. "We have to stay forever vigilant. Hockey is evolving and we need to keep our program in a place where we're not just pariticpants but leaders. Staying the same means you're falling behind because others are progressing."