BOYS HOCKEY: Red River prepares to face Minot in quarterfinals
Grand Forks Red River coach Bill Chase can’t remember a past Roughriders team with this kind of makeup.
Red River, seemingly, has always had an all-star scorer. Jacob Benson (62 points in 2012-13), Cody Jennewein (62 points in 2011-12), Casey Fugleberg (60 points in 2011-12), Jake LaDouceur (59 points in 2008-09) and Eric Meland (80 points in 2007-08) are names from just the past seven years.
This year’s Riders don’t have that standout. Still, that doesn’t change their expectations heading into Thursday’s North Dakota state boys hockey tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
East Region No. 3 seed Red River, 14-9 overall, faces West Region No. 2 Minot in the quarterfinals.
“This tournament can be ours, just as well as anybody,” Chase said.
The Riders will just have to accomplish that feat in a different manner.
Senior Jonah Kratochvil and junior Eric Leach lead this Red River team in scoring with 23 points on nine goals and 14 assists. That ranks tied for 35th among the state’s top scorers.
“We have to have three or four lines going hard and going to the net,” Leach said. “We don’t have that high-end scorer. Not every goal will be pretty. We need to get greasy goals, rebounds, point shots. If we get pucks to the net, they’re going to fall. Get it to the net and good things happen.”
Red River’s offensive prowess took a dip this season when Benson, a junior last year for the state champion Riders, decided to spend his senior season in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Also, talented sophomore-to-be Matt Christian left school to play midget hockey for Omaha. As a freshman, he scored 24 points for Red River.
That’s meant a different mentality for Red River — one Chase feels his team has bought into.
“They have all figured it out,” he said. “We have to go hard and have every guy going.”
Junior Logan Montgomery leads the team in goals with 13. Red River has scored 70 goals on the year but only given up 56.
With goals at a premium, the small margin for error is aided by senior goalie Aaron Sauve, who has a 91.1 save percentage and a 1.74 goals-against average.
For a team without a superstar, Chase said his squad needs to utilize all 20 guys more so than before. He used the recent play of junior Colin Hennessy as an example.
After playing sparingly on the fourth line all season, Chase used Hennessy on the first, second and third lines against Fargo Davies in Red River’s most important game of the year — the state qualifier at the region tournament.
“He has so much hustle, so it let everyone else know if he can create energy, so can you,” Chase said. “He’s hardly played all year for us, but I liked his energy. I told him to go out there and go crazy. He had no fear whatsoever.”
Although Red River doesn’t possess its usual top-end talent, the Riders are right up there with this year’s favorites to win the tournament.
At playoff time, coaches often cite the cliché that anyone can beat anyone. This year, though, that statement has more teeth to it.
The tournament field is wide open.
For example, East Region No. 1 seed Grand Forks Central only lost to North Dakota opponents five times. Four of those losses came to East Region teams that didn’t qualify for the state tournament: Fargo Davies and Grafton-Park River.
“This year, the east has been way closer than I ever remember,” Leach said. “Whoever shows up will do well.”