BOYS HOCKEY: The run to perfection

Grand Forks Red River is shooting for its second straight and its 16th overall North Dakota high school hockey title this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

N.D. Boys hockey

Grand Forks Red River is shooting for its second straight and its 16th overall North Dakota high school hockey title this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

But that's only half of what's at stake for the Riders.

Red River also is closing in on perfection, something that hasn't happened in North Dakota high school hockey for nearly a half century.

The 1966-67 Grand Forks Central squad was the last -- and only team -- to go undefeated in North Dakota prep hockey. And members of that team won't be cheering against the Riders tonight when Red River opens the tournament with a quarterfinal game against Minot.

"We're happy for Red River," said Tim O'Keefe, who was on the 1966-67 Central team that finished 22-0-0. "We wish them the best of luck. It's quite an accomplishment."


Red River enters the tournament at 24-0-0. Only two teams this season have come within a goal of the Riders. In last week's East Region tournament, the Riders outscored their opponents 21-2 in three games.

The 1966-67 Central team was dominant, too. But it's difficult, if not impossible, to compare the two teams of different eras.

"At the time we played, we had a pretty high level of competition," O'Keefe said. "Almost all of our games were against Minnesota schools. We beat the second-, third- and fifth-place finishers in the Minnesota state tournament that year.

"Our competition was pretty stiff."

Dr. Casey Ryan also played on the '67 team, coached by the legendary Serge Gambucci.

"It was a very dedicated group of people," Ryan, president of Altru Health System in Grand Forks, said. "We had a lot of discipline and we were on a mission. It was a good group of people who did it right."

One of the games Ryan recalled during the '67 season came at Hibbing, a Minnesota state power at the time.

"We were at Hibbing early in the season, around Christmas time," Ryan said. "Before the game, their players came by our locker room and banged their sticks against the door to try and intimidate us.


"We beat them 9-1. The next night we won 4-2 at Virginia. You'd have thought we lost the game. Maybe we were on a little bit of a high from the night before."

Gambucci remembers the Hibbing game as well.

"I remember them calling us farmers," Gambucci said. "I said, 'OK, you farmers, let's go.' And we went out and beat them. That was a pretty good hockey team we beat."

The '67 team also was one that had nine players move on to play in the WCHA.

"And that came at a time when major junior players from Canada were still eligible (to play in the WCHA)," said O'Keefe, who went on to play at UND and is now the executive director for the UND Alumni Association and UND Foundation.

There was only one high school in Grand Forks during the 1966-67 season. The players on that team grew up on different rinks in the city but came together at Central under Gambucci.

"Serge was such an icon in the sport in North Dakota, and he was highly respected in Minnesota, too," O'Keefe said. "We thought it was such a privilege to play for him. He was a tremendous influence in all of our lives. There is no greater compliment."

O'Keefe again will serve as a television analyst for this weekend's tournament.


And Ryan, who went on to Colorado College after his Central days, will be a team doctor at the tournament.

Both want the best for Red River.

"I saw Red River play three or four weeks ago and they have a very good team," Ryan said. "They have a lot of balance. And we had that on our team, too.

"I hope they go undefeated. It's not an easy thing to do."

Gambucci will be watching Red River this weekend as well. He wishes Red River well, too.

"Red River is a good hockey team," Gambucci said. "They're well coached, well disciplined. They certainly deserve to be undefeated.

"Going undefeated is very hard to do. You go against each school with a target on your back. They want to be the one to beat you. They'll play their best. Hopefully, you'll play your best."

Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to .

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.

He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.

He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.

Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or
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