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Heart, character sends Dickinson High Midgets boys hockey team into state hockey tournament

Ryan Bren, a freshman forward on the Dickinson High boys hockey team, wasn't yet born the last time the Midgets made an appearance in the state tournament in the 1999-2000 season.

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Members of the Dickinson High hockey team gather to celebrate a goal in front of a home-town crowd in the Midgets’ 8-3 win over Hazen-Beulah Jan. 8 at the West River Community Center. (Colton Pool/The Dickinson Press)

Ryan Bren, a freshman forward on the Dickinson High boys hockey team, wasn’t yet born the last time the Midgets made an appearance in the state tournament in the 1999-2000 season.

For that matter, neither was sophomore Logan Karsky. But they’ll enjoy this year’s visit just as much as anybody else.

“It’s very special,” Bren said. “We’ve all worked hard to get there. It’s the best feeling we’ve had so far, and hopefully we can add more.”

Making the tournament for the first time in 16 years is something the whole group can savor.

“I’m trying to soak it all in. It’s a sigh of relief to finally get there,” senior defenseman Tate Martel said. “We’ve had teams in the past be so close, so close, and we finally got over the hump. … I’ve been working my whole life to get there. To get there my final year of hockey means a lot.”

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The Midgets (10-12) face the East Region’s top seed, Grand Forks Red River (24-0), at 5:30 p.m. today at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

In the decade and a half between appearances, the Midgets went 102-231-9, with a dozen seasons yielding fewer than 10 wins. Third-year head coach Dallas Kuntz can only speak to the last couple of years, of course, but he has a good idea as to what made this team different and what sent this team over the top.

Before the season, Kuntz said his team was a “run-right-into-the-wall-and-smile type of group,” meaning the players don’t ask questions; they just go out and play, and that was the team’s main quality.

“If you ask them to do something, they just go out and do it,” Kuntz said. “I don’t think they know any better. … I don’t think they put a lot of pressure on their shoulders that they hadn’t been to the state hockey tournament in how many years. I don’t think they even understood it. They just wanted to go out and play hockey, and that’s what separates them from years past.”

Getting to this point also involved overcoming a severe lack of depth; the Midgets only had enough players to utilize two-and-a-half or three lines while most opponents were rolling out four.

“It shows that we have the heart for two lines to compete with four of their lines,” senior forward Michael McChesney said. “Yeah, we’re always tired, but we’re willing to go that extra second, that extra minute, of a shift to do what we can to make it to state.”

In that willingness to go the extra mile, Kuntz said his players showed great character while accepting their individual roles.

“Each team has role players. There are skaters for us - a Tyler Kostelecky, a Michael Herauf, a Treven Hopfauf, Matt Tessier, Logan Karsky - some of those guys, as forwards, don’t show up on the scoresheet, but they’re just as important as our scorers,” Kuntz said. “If they can’t take shifts or forecheck or spend time in the attacking zone, keeping the other team away from our net, there’s no way our scorers can get on the ice and put the puck in the net like they have. It’s a matter of all the players understanding their roles.”

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The first two Dickinson teams Kuntz coached might have had more talent, he said, but this year’s team has showed a cohesiveness that has sent the program back to the state tournament.

“We realized how good we could play together instead of trying to play as a bunch of individuals,” Martel said.

The Midgets enter the state tournament as winners in five of their last seven games. They hold the opinion that anything can happen in Grand Forks, but heart, grit and character have taken them this far.

They aren’t about to stop now.

“We don’t have as much of those guys that can dangle around, score goals all the time,” McChesney said. “Our main key is to outwork and grind those other teams that have that talent. We have to outwork them, get them frustrated, play the body, force them into little mistakes that we can capitalize on.

“We’ve always been on the doorstep of going to state, but this year was different. We had the mentality, that confidence that we could do it, and we went out and did it.”

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