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Central downs Bismarck Century, captures 27th state hockey title

In a matchup of one team searching for its 27th North Dakota state hockey championship and another team looking for its first, the traditional power was too much for the new blood.

Central fans react to a goal in Saturday's championship game of the ND High School Hockey tournament at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Central fans react to a goal in Saturday's championship game of the ND High School Hockey tournament at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In a matchup of one team searching for its 27th North Dakota state hockey championship and another team looking for its first, the traditional power was too much for the new blood.

Grand Forks Central scored three times in the second period to win back-to-back state championships with a 4-2 win over Bismarck Century on Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

"I'm so proud of the guys," said Central goalie Kaleb Johnson, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. "I couldn't ask for more out of my guys. We know we lost a lot of guys (off last year's state title team) but we never let it affect the way we played. We played with speed just like last year."

The Knights won 17 straight to close the year at 25-1-2. Central didn't lose to a North Dakota opponent for the second-straight year.

"I thought the whole game was a little odd with all of the special teams play," Central coach Grant Paranica said. "It's hard to get in a rhythm and use our depth with that. But our guys were resilient against a very good offensive team."

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After a scoreless first period, Central jumped to a 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the second.

Knights defender Hunter Bjorge scored a power-play goal when his shot from the point navigated traffic for a 1-0 lead at 1:35 of the second.

The Knights pushed the lead to 2-0 after defenseman Brandon Holt's perimeter shot weaved through traffic at 3:44 of the second.

Both goals were assisted by Central sophomore forward William Lawson-Body, who had three goals and four assists in the state tournament for a tournament-best seven points.

The Knights and Johnson, who finished with 27 saves, allowed their first goal of the postseason in the second period.

After shutting out opponents throughout the East Region tournament and the first two rounds of the state event, Century used a long 5-on-3 to get one by Johnson.

Century's Casey Foss, who scored four goals in the state quarterfinals, jammed one in from in tight to cut Central's lead to 2-1 at 12:11 of the second.

The Knights were able to regain a two-goal lead at 15:53 of the second. Mitchell Idalski scored to make it 3-1 going into the second intermission.

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"I thought we were tentative in the first but adjusted to the bright lights as the game went on," Century coach Troy Olson said. "Against a team like Central, they play such good D-zone, you can't break down. Our kids battled and made a game out of it and that's all you can ask for."

Century set up a wild finish. The Patriots pulled their goalie with 2:30 left in the third.

With the extra attacker, Century star Isaiah Thomas scored with 1:18 to go after a hard bounce off the back boards set him up in front. Thomas' goal made it 3-2.

The Century momentum, however, was short-lived as the Patriots took a five-minute boarding penalty with 58 seconds to go.

Central iced the win when Zack Murphy scored an empty-net goal with 12 seconds remaining.

"It's unbelievable," Bjorge said. "You can't describe in words how it feels to go back to back."

Related Topics: PREP SPORTSGF CENTRAL
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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