WEST FARGO -- A surprise first period may have briefly had West Fargo's boys hockey team thinking upset in a matchup with unbeaten juggernaut Grand Forks Central on Tuesday.
As they've made a habit of doing to most teams in recent years, the Knights swiftly squashed such aspirations.
After falling in a surprise 1-0 hole, five different players scored in a second period when the Knights held the Packers without a shot, en route to an 8-2 win in Eastern Dakota Conference boys hockey action at the West Fargo Sports Arena.
Despite allowing 11 of the game's first 12 shots, the Packers managed to score the only goal of the opening period, when Zayne Brunette successfully followed a Devin Wolf shot that had been tapped away by Knight goalie Aaron Nielsen.
The offense was countered by an excellent defensive performance spearheaded by goalie Gabe Pederson, who recorded 16 saves in the opening period, the most impressive of which was a lunging deflection in front of what appeared to be a wide-open net in the closing minute.
But in short order, a Central team that has won 61 of its last 64 games, quickly flexed its muscle to bury West Fargo under a swarming offensive onslaught.
The scoring began 3 minutes, 4 seconds into the second period, when Cole Spicer converted an unassisted breakaway just seconds after a Knight power play had ended. Just under four minutes later, Central had its first lead of the night, when Cole Hanson found Will Howard, who found an opening and pushed a shot by Pederson.
The relentless attack produced three more goals by period's end, as an overwhelmed Packer defense struggled to get the puck out of its own end.
The lone highlights for the Packer offense came courtesy of Brunette and Wolf, who connected for a second goal 40 seconds into the third period. Grand Forks Central finished with a 48-11 shot advantage and only one player, Howard, scored more than one goal.
"They're an exceptionally, historically good hockey team," Packer co-head coach Troy Miller said. "You just don't see high school hockey teams that, 1-20 (on the depth chart), have that skill level. Clearly Central's in a class by itself."
Knowing this, you may think Miller would be dreading having to play the Knights again, which the Packers will have to do on Feb. 5. You'd be wrong.
Still optimistic his team can grab a state tournament spot despite a four-game losing streak, Miller says playing against an opponent of this caliber can only help going forward.
"I'd like to play them every other week if we could," he said. "It would make us better. I think it's great for our guys. When we play Grand Forks Central, they have the puck 80 percent of the game. It forces you to be in the right place and be fundamentally sound defensively. It's good experience for our kids."