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The Spoilers' new backbone

After Grafton-Park River lost in the third-place game of the North Dakota state boys hockey tournament last season, Spoilers coach Jay Haugland commented on his projections for this season.

After Grafton-Park River lost in the third-place game of the North Dakota state boys hockey tournament last season, Spoilers coach Jay Haugland commented on his projections for this season.

"We're losing some key seniors," Haugland said. "But we have a good core of kids coming back."

Haugland was right. His Spoilers are 19-5 this year. One of the big reasons is the play of Grafton-Park River's big goalie, senior Mike Sand.

"Right from the get-go he's been really solid in the nets," Haugland said. "He's been very consistent."

Last year, Grafton-Park River goalie Tony Kringstad was an important piece of a team that finished 16-9-2.

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"It's hard (replacing Kringstad); I didn't get many opportunities to play," said Sand, a 6-foot-2 senior goaltender. "I felt I did pretty well in JV. I was ready to come in.

"The first couple of games, I was a little shaky. But eventually I got my feet under myself."

The Spoilers started the season 0-2, losing to Fargo South and Fargo North. Sand gave up six goals in each game. After those games, however, he didn't give up more than three goals in his next 16 outings.

Sand finished the regular season with a .90 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average.

"He plays angles well," Haugland said. "The big thing has been his confidence."

Grafton-Park River, a No. 3 seed from the East Region, will face Minot, a No. 2 seed from the West Region, in the first round of the state tournament at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Like any state tournament, goaltending will be crucial.

"You can go a long ways with a good goalie," Haugland said. "It has been proven in a lot of state tournaments, if you have a good goalie, you have a good chance."

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Of Grafton-Park River's five losses this season, three have come against the East Region's top seed, Fargo South. South defeated the Spoilers 8-2 loss in the semifinal round of the East Region tournament.

That doesn't seem to bother Sand, though.

"(The Bruins) embarrassed us in the regional," Sand said. "We're ready to get back at them.

"It's the best team we've had in awhile, and we have a lot of chemistry. We're ready for state. I'm excited. I love tournaments."

Reach Miller at 780-1120, (800) 477-6572 ext. 120 or tmiller@gfherald.com .

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