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Grand Forks Central doesn't miss a beat despite major lineup turnover

The Grand Forks Central boys hockey team finished off one of the most dominant seasons in state history last year by outscoring North Dakota state tournament opponents 21-3 en route to a perfect 27-0 record.

Central forward Lucas Kanta fires a shot at the Fargo Davies goal in the second period of Saturday's EDC championship hockey game at Fido Purpur Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
Central's Lucas Kanta (right) evades Davies defenseman Tyler Kleven in the first period of Saturday's EDC boys hockey championship at Fido Purpur Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The Grand Forks Central boys hockey team finished off one of the most dominant seasons in state history last year by outscoring North Dakota state tournament opponents 21-3 en route to a perfect 27-0 record.

The Knights lost seven of their top eight scorers off that team. Of the 197 goals scored by the Knights a year ago, only 52 returned this season.

However, there was a lot more reload than rebuild for the Knights in 2018. Central will take the East Region's No. 1 seed into today's state tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Knights play Dickinson at 5:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

"We didn't know what to expect," Central coach Grant Paranica said. "I thought the kids we had coming back were pretty talented; they just had to play behind more talented players last year. We thought they'd contribute when they were getting more ice time."

The Knights were a high-scoring offensive machine a year ago, led by senior Grant Johnson, who was one of the state's all-time highest career scorers.

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Johnson also was helped by sophomore forward Judd Caulfield, who is now playing for the U.S. Development Program U-17 Team.

This Knights team isn't scoring at the same clip as last year. Central has 112 goals so far.

But the Knights have been just as stingy defensively with a retooled lineup. Last year, Central gave up 32 goals in 27 games. This year, the Knights have given up 26 goals in 24 games.

One common denominator in the two seasons is goalie Kaleb Johnson.

"We were anticipating playing in closer games this year," Paranica said. "Defensively, we played well in our zone and haven't given up a lot of opportunities. When we have, Kaleb has played well."

Johnson has eight solo shutouts this year and has played parts of 11 games that ended in a shutout.

"We go out there and work at (defense) every day," Central defenseman Hunter Moreland said. "Kaleb helps us out a lot with incredible saves."

Central's offense has been balanced. Upperclassmen Cole Hanson (36 points), Lucas Kanta (34 points), Zack Murphy (30 points) and Kyler Briske (25 points) have been the beneficiaries of larger roles from year to year.

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"We knew it was going to be a grind this season from the start," Murphy said. "We really needed more work ethic this year than we did in the past. A lot of kids at school were saying we wouldn't be as good this year. I think that motivated us to do better."

To add to the returners, the Knights added a group of talented sophomores including forwards Will Howard (18 points) and William Lawson-Body (17 points), as well as defenseman Tucker Hodgson (5 points).

"I knew we'd have a challenge this year because we lost a lot of guys," Kanta said. "I knew we'd have a great group, though. A few guys came up and helped. Everyone has adapted to their new role on the team."

Today's games

Today's quarterfinal round games of the North Dakota state boys hockey tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena:

• Bismarck Century vs. Grafton-Park River, noon

• Fargo Davies vs. Jamestown, 2:30 p.m., approximate

• GF Central vs. Dickinson, 5:30 p.m.

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• GF Red River vs. Bismarck High, 8 p.m., approximate

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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