In two earlier meetings this season, Grand Forks Red River and Fargo South-Shanley went down to the wire in a pair of defensive battles.
But the teams’ third meeting certainly didn’t look like the others. Red River earned a spot in next week’s state high school hockey tournament after taking down Fargo South-Shanley 7-0 on Thursday in the East Region semifinals at Purpur Arena.
Sophomore Carter Sproule notched a hat trick and seniors Drew Melland and Matt Scribner each scored two goals to complement a 15-save shutout by Andrew Peterson.
The teams split a pair of 2-1 decisions earlier this season in a matchup of two of the top goalies in the state -- Fargo South-Shanley’s Zach Sandy and Peterson.
“Sandy’s a good goalie and they're a great team,” said Red River coach Tim Skarperud. “We played really good defensive hockey. Once it got to 3-0, 4-0, things opened up a little bit that they usually don’t let happen.”
Red River brought the speed and pressure early, forcing multiple turnovers on the attack. The first period flew by in a flash. But in the last two minutes, Grand Forks was able to finally solve Sandy. Sproule followed up on a failed breakaway attempt and put the Roughriders up 1-0.
It did not take as long for Red River to strike again. Even after a Fargo South-Shanley power play, the Riders were able to pick up the pace. After another failed chance at clearing the zone, sophomore Mikey Coleman was able to corral the puck and find Melland in the slot on a bang-bang play, extending the lead to 2-0 for Grand Forks Red River 3:13 into the middle frame.
“I like our guys’ hunger around the net,” said Skarperud. “We were pretty hungry to get second chances and third chances in front of Sandy and that’s what you have to do. One of the things that makes us successful is to get the puck in deep and go to work. We’re a grinding team and have a lot of guys that like to work the puck down low and create plays from that.”
The Bruins were able to put together stretches of puck possession in the second period. It wouldn’t result in anything on the scoresheet but they were able to crawl back in the shot count after only tallying four in the first.
“Unfortunately, for us to beat Red River we would need to be almost perfect,” said Fargo South-Shanley coach Dean French. “In stretches we were good, and then we had breakdowns that we don’t normally have. Then we have defensive breakdowns in coverage that we don’t normally have.”
Once the Roughriders gained control again the barrage did not stop. The strong cycle game continued and Scribner found Sproule just outside the faceoff dots and he was able to score his second of the game and make it 3-0.
“In so many areas of this game today, we didn’t have a lineup out there that we normally do,” said French. “We had no choice, that's all we had. So, we did the best we could with what we had. We’ve missed at least three players in every single game this year. We’ve never had a practice with all of our guys -- not once -- all season. And today we’re missing four of our top 10 scorers.”
In the third period, Red River got two quick goals from Melland and Scribner to put the game out of reach.
“The guys have shown great character all year long,” said Skarperud. “They don’t get rattled or get worked up when things aren’t going our way. They stay focused even when the frustration level has crept up a bit. They’ve done a good job of shoving that to the side pretty quickly and not staying frustrated too long.
Scribner added another with six minutes left and Sproule was able to complete the hat trick in the final minute.
Red River now advances to Saturday’s East Region title game.
“It’s all about building and continuing to do the right things,” said Skarperud. “You can’t think that all games are going to be like that because it's not going to be. There are great teams in this state. We’re happy to be there and looking forward to the challenge.”