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May-Port Ice Dawgs expected to get region tourney opportunity

May-Port Area Ice Dawgs forward Reece Groth, who led his team in points last season, controls the puck against Morris-Benson during game last season. Photo/Cory Erickson, Hillsboro Banner.1 / 2
May-Port Area Ice Dawgs goalie Kade Susie reaches for a save against the Breckenridge-Wahpeton Blades during a game last season. Photo/Cory Erickson, Hillsboro Banner.2 / 2

MAYVILLE, N.D.—For years, Reece Groth has followed the North Dakota High School hockey tournament. First it was watching the games on television, then the last few years he's traveled to Grand Forks and Fargo to attend the tournament.

The Mayville-Portland-CG High School junior admits to being a little envious of those players.

"I'd played with a lot of those guys in summer tournaments,'' Groth said. "I would have loved to have had the opportunity to be there with my teammates.''

That opportunity may now be just a year away.

At Tuesday's North Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors meeting, board members are expected to act on a request for the Mayville-Portland Area Ice Dawgs team to be allowed to play in a postseason regional tournament. The top four region tournament finishers advance to state.

Matt Fetsch, executive secretary of the NDHSAA, said he anticipates the Ice Dawgs' request will be approved. "I'd be shocked if (the decision) is anything other than we place their team in the East Region as the No. 10 seed next year,'' Fetsch said.

That will be another step in the Ice Dawgs' rapidly changing landscape.

Prior to this season, the program had competed in North Dakota Amateur Hockey Association Junior Gold. After the Ice Dawgs won the Junior Gold 2016 state tournament, the program switched to high school hockey. It went 9-12-0 this winter playing an independent schedule, with no postseason opportunities available.

The team, which has players from several area schools, will again play an independent schedule next winter. But, if things go as expected, the Ice Dawgs will get the East Region No. 10 seed and meet the No. 7 seed in a play-in game to qualify for the regional.

"It's probably happened quicker than we'd expected,'' said Derek Peterson, president of the board of the May-Port Ice Dawgs Hockey Association. "We thought we'd have to be fully taken into the EDC to qualify for the regional. We were looking at two, three years to get this to happen.

"It's a big step for our program. It gives kids something to play for.''

The Ice Dawgs were 5-7 this winter against varsity high school teams, all of them smaller Minnesota Class A schools. They also swept two games from the Grafton-Park River junior varsity team while losing to the Grand Forks Central and Jamestown JV squads.

"We took some lumps after they did very well in Junior Gold,'' said Ice Dawgs coach Dave Bjugson. "I'd ask the kids sometimes if they were happy with the direction we were going. And they all said it was so much better playing better competition.''

The Ice Dawgs had only a 12-player roster, with Levi Mattson the lone senior. Four players will move up from the program's Bantam team next season.

Groth is the big gun, with 28 goals and 23 assists last season. Sam Satrom (14 goals-11 assists) and Jordan Sherva (12-8) also were top scorers.

"Looking down the line, next year will be one of our stronger years for awhile,'' Bjugson said.

"Against some teams (at the regional), I truly believe we have a shot at winning. I watched the region tournament. I think it's possible for us to win a play-in game, maybe even to win a few games at the regional and get to state.''

A chance—that's what the Ice Dawgs wanted.

"I didn't expect us to get to play in the regional so quickly,'' sophomore goalie Kade Susie said. "But I'm glad it is happening. We want to play the highest level of competition. It will be awesome to get that opportunity.''