Red River rolls to state boys hockey titleGRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Red River coach Bill Chase was pleased with his team’s performance through the first two games of the North Dakota state hockey tournament.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum News Service
GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Red River coach Bill Chase was pleased with his team’s performance through the first two games of the North Dakota state hockey tournament.
But he sensed his team still had something left to give.
The Riders gave it their all against Grafton-Park River on Saturday night. And the result was a convincing 7-1 Red River win over the Spoilers in the championship game of the state tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
For the Riders, it was their first title since 2011 and their 16th overall. And it comes a year after Grafton-Park River upset the heavily favored Riders in last year’s tournament.
“In our first two games, we played like, ‘Let’s do what we have to do and win,’” said Chase. “I wasn’t sure how this one would come out. But there was no fear. It seemed like we saved all of our energy for this one.”
Grafton-Park River, which beat Red River in the regular-season finale, threw some pressure at the Riders in the first couple of minutes. But Red River responded quickly, grabbing the momentum on Andy Norman’s shorthanded goal at 4:29 of the first period.
Jacob Benson, taking a feed from Norman, made it 2-0 on a blast that beat Grafton-Park River goalie Zach Nelson stick side at 13:01. That’s all the Riders would need, but they kept the pressure on the rest of the way.
Norman scored two goals, as did Jordan Lunski. Benson, Matt Christian and Ross Johnson also scored as the Riders finished the season 21-5-1.
“It’s great to get back and get another championship,” said tournament MVP Jon Lizotte, a physical presence throughout the tournament. The Riders’ quick start, he said, was big.
“We knew we had to come out and pop one,” he said. “As always, Grafton goes at you hard and we had to counter that.”
Lizotte was part of a Red River defense that allowed only one goal in three tournament games.
“That’s unbelievable for a team to do that in three games,” said Lizotte, also named the state’s senior athlete of the year.
Red River goalie Aaron Sauve finished with 13 saves, but he came up big in the early minutes — stuffing a wrap-around attempt by Grafton-Park River’s Levi Cudmore.
“Our defense in our last five games improved greatly,” Chase said. “Our neutral ice coverage was excellent. We took some pucks away and were able to attack.”
While its defense was solid in the postseason, the Riders also rolled on offense. Red River scored 15 goals in the state tournament and 19 in the East Region tournament.
But the memory of last year’s loss to the Spoilers in the state tournament semifinals, still lingered for the Riders.
“Last year was a disappointment,” said Benson. “We just didn’t want to lose this year.”
Zach Feltman tallied Grafton-Park River’s goal at 7:26 of the second. By that time, the Riders had a 3-0 lead.
But Lunski scored the first of his two goals at 12:38, ending any Grafton-Park River comeback hopes.
The Spoilers finished 15-10-2 and played in the state title game for the second straight season.
“Give Red River a lot of credit,” said Grafton-Park River coach Scott Petersen. “They played really well, really hungry. They were willing to commit 100 percent on every shift. They beat us, plain and simple.”
And last year’s semifinal win by the Spoilers may have been a factor.
“We kind of took one from them last year,” Petersen said. “They were by far the best team last year. They may have saved a little for us this year.”
Benson and Lizotte were Red River’s two leading scorers.
They didn’t let up in the postseason, either.
“So proud; hard to explain,” said Benson, who will play college hockey at St. Cloud State.
Words were tough to come by on the ice for Lizotte as well.
“It just puts a big smile on your face,” Lizotte said.