TOM MILLER: Old Knights shine at the Ralph
When Grand Forks Central beat Bismarck High in the 2010 North Dakota state boys hockey championship, Bismarck coach and former NHL player Mike Peluso labeled that Central team as the deepest high school team he'd ever seen.
Peluso was on to something, and we were reminded of that on Friday night.
Three years later -- in the same building as the state championship -- three 2010 Central players had shining moments at the next level in UND's 4-1 win over Northern Michigan at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND freshmen Luke Johnson and Paul LaDue scored goals, while Northern Michigan freshman Casey Purpur played in the first game of his collegiate career.
"It was a rush right away," said Purpur, who had been a healthy scratch before this weekend. "It's my first-ever game. I'm in my hometown. My family is here. I'm playing against guys I know ... I couldn't ask for much more in my first college game than that -- other than a win."
Purpur didn't register any points, but the 5-foot-8 forward played wing on the fourth line alongside Nate Taurence and Jake Johnson.
"I thought he did a good job; I really did," NMU coach Walt Kyle said. "I was real happy for him to get the opportunity.
"(The fourth line) probably generated the most chances out of any of our lines, I thought."
LaDue and Purpur were juniors on the 2010 team, while Johnson was only a freshman.
"It was good to see (Purpur) out there," Johnson said. "I thought he played well."
It was a big night for the former Knights. Johnson, coming off a four-point series last weekend at Western Michigan, scored his fourth goal of the season and was named the game's No. 1 star. After the second period, Johnson had put six shots on net and no teammate had more than one. Johnson is now tied for second on the team in points with 10.
LaDue, meanwhile, pocketed his third goal of the year in the third period to ice the win. His seven points are third among UND defenders, behind Jordan Schmaltz and Dillon Simpson.
"It was a little weird playing against (Purpur) in this building, when I've watched so many games with him here," LaDue said. "It was pretty special."
The collegiate reunion of Purpur, Johnson and LaDue was a fun reminder for local sports fans of the dominant Central team, which went 24-3 in 2010 and outscored opponents 38-2 in the postseason.
On the season, Central outscored 2010 opponents 160-22.
Purpur had twice as many goals as anyone on the team that year with 35, followed by the young Johnson with 17. LaDue, who had 10 goals from the blue line that season, was the only one of the three to score in the state title game that saw the Knights beat Bismarck 3-0 but outshoot the Demons 35-16.
After that dominant season, Purpur and LaDue went to play in the NAHL with the Alexandria Blizzard. Purpur played there three seasons before enrolling at NMU, while LaDue moved on after one year and joined the USHL's Lincoln Stars, where he joined Johnson for two seasons.
Purpur might be on the opposing bench now, but he said he's happy with his decision to take a walk-on opportunity in Marquette, Mich.
"I'm having a blast up there," Purpur said. "I love it."