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Late push sparks Grafton-Park River

Grafton-Park River senior forward Zach Miller said it was good and bad that he and the Spoilers defeated Minot 6-3 during the regular season. "When you beat a team pretty decently, your head gets a little bit too big going into key games like thi...

Grafton-Park River senior forward Zach Miller said it was good and bad that he and the Spoilers defeated Minot 6-3 during the regular season.

"When you beat a team pretty decently, your head gets a little bit too big going into key games like this," Miller said. "We kind of realized we needed to quit screwing around and pick it up."

The Spoilers picked things up just like they did against the Magicians during the regular season. They scored three third-period goals en route to a 5-2 victory over Minot in the North Dakota state boys hockey quarterfinals Thursday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

During the regular season, the teams were tied at 2 before Grafton-Park River erupted four third-period goals.

"We came out real slow today," Grafton-Park River coach Jay Haugland said. "We had a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities, but they weren't going. Our strongest period for the second half of the year has been our third period."

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Miller scored two goals and added an assist to pace Grafton-Park River, which will take a 19-5 record into today's 6:30 p.m. semifinal game against Fargo South.

The Magicians can't find any magic when it comes to state quarterfinal games. They have lost 14 straight first-round games since the 1992 tournament, when they defeated Bismarck High for the school's only state boys hockey title.

Minot looked strong early. It took a 1-0 lead at 1 minute, 12 seconds of the first period when Leo Ness beat goalie Mike Sand to the glove side with a wrist shot.

Grafton-Park River tied it in the final minute of the opening period when Tanner Hills stuffed a shot past goalie Derek Skogen.

The teams then traded shorthanded goals in the second period. After Minot's Nathan Stremick came in alone and beat Sand at 4:07 of the period, Miller puck the puck through the legs of a defenseman, walked in and put one over a prone Skogen at 6:22.

That set up the Spoilers' big third period.

At 1:56, Todd Presteng ripped a shot past Skogen from close range after receiving a centering pass from Chris Midgarden. The third-line center's goal gave Grafton-Park River its first lead of the game.

"It was a huge boost for us when Todd put that goal in," Haugland said.

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Chad Demers made it 4-2 with 1:15 left. Teammate Alex Gaustad won a draw in the Minot end and fed Demers, who fired a shot past Skogen.

Haugland said the fact that his team has seven sophomores could have contributed to its slow start against Minot, which dropped to 15-9-1.

"Maybe getting used to the ice and the atmosphere, just the hoopla of the state, maybe a little bit of nerves, I don't know," he said. "I think as the game went we settled down a little bit better, got back into our game a little bit."

Grafton-Park River had a 36-18 edge in shots on goal.

"Our motto is if we can get 30 shots on net and hold our opponents to 20, we should win our games and that held true again today," Haugland said.

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