GGF HIGH SCHOOL BOYS HOCKEY PREVIEW: Coaches expect tight races for Gambucci Cup
Grand Forks Central is the defending North Dakota state champions. Grand Forks Red River has started this season better than any team in the state. East Grand Forks Senior High is the only local team with a win in the Gambucci Cup standings, whic...
Grand Forks Central is the defending North Dakota state champions.
Grand Forks Red River has started this season better than any team in the state.
East Grand Forks Senior High is the only local team with a win in the Gambucci Cup standings, which track the head-to-head records between the three Greater Grand Forks schools.
So, not surprisingly, local coaches are expecting one of the tightest races in the nine-year history of the Gambucci Cup.
"I can see everybody splitting," Red River coach Bill Chase said. "It should be an absolute battle each game. That's how I see it."
Senior High coach Cory Chupka has the same vision.
"I think everyone has an opportunity, at one point or another, to match up well," Chupka said. "Each team has its own strengths and weaknesses. The Gambucci Cup is all going to come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes."
The Green Wave, who haven't won the honor since the 2003-04 season, picked up the first victory for the Cup when they beat Central 4-1 on Dec. 21.
This week will go a long way in seeing how Red River matches up with the other two local teams.
The Roughriders, who are 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the East Region, face Central at 7:30 tonight at Purpur Arena. Red River then makes the short trip to East Grand Forks to play the Green Wave on Thursday night at 7:30.
Although the Riders failed to make the state tournament last season and the Knights handily cruised to their 25th state title, Red River enters tonight's matchup as the slight favorite.
Central, 5-3 overall, has one region loss, a 4-3 setback to West Fargo. Red River, meanwhile, defeated West Fargo 4-2. The Roughriders' lone defeat came to Apple Valley, one of the top teams in Minnesota Class AA.
"Red River has some guys that are big and physical," Central coach Tony Bina said. "They can definitely skate, too. They can put the puck away. But we also need to worry about the way we play."
The Rider offense is paced by senior forward Alan Zahui, who has 12 goals and five assists, and junior forward Casey Fugleberg, who has nine goals and seven assists.
"We had the (Christmas) break to work on some things," Bina said. "We need to bring our hard hats back and outwork our opponents. Before the break, we got away from things that we normally do. That resulted in the loss (to Senior High). We have the guys to do the job, but we have to work hard and capitalize on our opportunities."
Chupka and the Green Wave are also concerned with Red River's strong group of forwards.
"We have to match what they have at forward," Chupka said. "We have to respond defensively as far as getting the puck out of the zone and not giving them more than they create as far as chances. We have to focus on our duties and jobs in the defensive zone."
Chase said the Riders also have their eye on Central's elite players.
The Knights are led offensively by forwards Johnny Simonson (19 points), Jordy Aamot (18 points), Luke Johnson (16 points) and Alec Lazur (12 points). Jeremy O'Keefe leads the defense with seven points.
"Central has very good, talented players," Chase said. "They're deadly. We have to be assignment sharp and play with high intensity. They have that old, winning tradition. They're the defending champs. They have confidence."
To counter, Red River hopes to take advantage of its depth.
"We need all three lines going hard," Chase said. "We have to try to be careful with their top guns and not give them too much freedom."
The Knights, though, are still adjusting to the departure of last year's standouts including Casey Purpur, Danny Ray and Paul LaDue.
"We understood replacing guys that left would be a challenge," Bina said. "But I think we have some guys that are slowly stepping their way in."
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