The Orono boys hockey team should probably take it easy on Thanksgiving dinner.
On Thanksgiving night, the defending Minnesota state Class A Spartans will make a five-hour trek to Greater Grand Forks.
On Friday at 4 p.m., last season's No. 1 Orono will play last season's No. 8 East Grand Forks Senior High at the Civic Center in a matchup of Top 10 teams in the final 2017-18 poll.
On Saturday at 3:15 p.m., it'll be a showdown of state champions at Purpur Arena as Orono plays against back-to-back North Dakota state title winner Grand Forks Central.
"It's a good test," Orono coach Will Scholz said. "I'd rather start playing against a good team and losing than playing some below average team and getting a false sense of confidence."
Orono lost 10 seniors and two transfers off last season's state championship-a first for the program.
But Orono's junior varsity finished 23-1-1 last year and Scholz expects that squad to help solidify a team led by two state all-tournament defensemen in Danny Eckerline and Jack Kubitz.
Scholz said his team is leaving a day early to "avoid bus legs."
"I think it's a measuring stick," he said. "It's a good time to play a couple of good teams. The road makes it more difficult-sleeping in hotels and not mom and dad's palace. It's a good time for a bonding trip. We're going to a UND game on Friday, so it'll be a good trip regardless of the outcomes. Hopefully the team gets tighter and closer."
Central is the clear-cut favorite to three-peat in North Dakota, returning eight of its top nine scorers from a year ago including all-state picks in forward Lucas Kanta and defenseman Brandon Holt.
The primary question mark is in net where goaltender Kaleb Johnson, who recently committed to UND, has opted to play his senior season in the junior hockey ranks. Johnson plays for the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL.
"Any time you get to play a high-quality opponent, it's a good thing for us," Central coach Grant Paranica said. "The fact that they're the defending state champs; it's just a nice little bonus to play someone like that."
Central finished last season 25-1-2, with the only loss to East Grand Forks.
"We have a lot of guys returning up front," Paranica said. "We have some new faces in there, too. This part of the season we're just looking to see how deep we are and how the young guys will be able to play. We'll find out where we're at in terms of speed and pace. Orono like to play a fast game."
Central has gone two consecutive seasons without losing to a North Dakota opponent.
"I think when you see a different face and program it's always kind of exciting," Paranica said. "We're use to seeing some of the same kids. In high school, just to see some new faces you haven't seen before ... I think that's always exciting. They should get excited to play someone they haven't seen."