If there's a North Dakota high school hockey team that knows 'defense wins championships,' it's Grand Forks Red River.
A year ago, the Roughriders -- without a scorer in the state's Top 40 -- rode a hard-to-play-against reputation to a state championship title.
This year's Riders aren't much different.
Red River now has two skaters in the Top 40 -- Carter Sproule at 22 and Justin Wasvick at 40 -- but it's still a team defined by a physical, hard-nosed philosophy.
Red River (17-5-0) will take that defensive mindset into the North Dakota state tournament, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday against Williston (10-8-0) at Purpur Arena.
Due to the pandemic, the state tournament was altered to start on Tuesday at home sites before continuing the winners' bracket at Ralph Engelstad Arena for the semifinals Friday night.
"Offense is great, but this time of year, defense wins championships," Red River first-year coach Tim Skarperud said. "It's more about taking care of it in our defensive end. The offense will happen. Puck management comes before offense."
The Riders have a deep defensive corps, led by all-East Region selections Wyatt LeDuc and Matt Scribner. But Jake Grandstrand, Cooper Freije, Mason Stroh and Garrett Eickman give Red River plenty of options on the back end.
"I feel like it's definitely a strong suit of our team," said LeDuc, who has five goals and 11 assists this season. "If you want to win big games, you have to rely on your defense and keep pucks out of the net."
Skarperud said his team has seven strong defensemen, and the addition of sophomores Eickman and Stroh have provided the depth late in the year.
"We didn't really know what our D-corps would look like at the start of the year," LeDuc said. "We didn't know about our last pair. But (Eickman and Stroh) came in, and they're big, tall guys. They both have a presence and they've been good lately. They're strong and don't give up much."
From Feb. 2 to Feb. 18, Red River gave up just two goals in a seven-game span -- part of an eight-game winning streak.
But there was a bump in the road to end the East Region tournament.
That came in the form of Grand Forks Central, which scored six goals in routing Red River 6-1 in the region title game.
Skarperud said his team is viewing that game from two angles. One, it can motivate you to work harder. Two, it's just one game in a long season.
"It can be fuel for the fire but you can't dwell on it and have it become negative," Skarperud said. "Adversity can bring you down or make you stronger."
"You can view it many different ways but the best way is to use it as fuel for the state tournament," LeDuc said. "It's not a secret we didn't play well. We were playing really tentative. We can learn from it. I think we'll see better this week at state."
The start of a state tournament is also a chance for new beginnings.
"The good thing about now is everybody is 0-0, and it's a matter of five or six days left in the season," Skarperud said. "The team that wants it the most and is committed the most will come out on top. It's about mindset, energy, passion and the will to get it done."
Said LeDuc: "That's what we've stressed to the young kids. In EDC, you want to win, but losing doesn't mean much. We've been telling the other guys how good it felt to win it and last weekend didn't really matter and use it to build for a better week this week."
GF Red River at a glance
Coach: Tim Skarperud (first season).
Quarterfinal matchup: West Region No. 3 Williston (10-8-0), 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Purpur Arena.
Top scorers: Soph. F Carter Sproule (11 goals-13 assists -- 24 points); sr. F Justin Wasvick (9-10 -- 19); sr. F Zach Hinschberger (9-10 -- 19); jr. D Wyatt LeDuc (5-11 -- 16); sr. F Brendan Mullen (7-8 -- 15); jr. D Cooper Freije (2-12 -- 14); soph. F Mason Reynolds (9-5 -- 14); sr. D Matt Scribner (4-8 -- 12); jr. D Jake Grandstrand (4-8 -- 12); soph. F Mikey Coleman (6-5 -- 11); sr. F Landon Langenstein (6-3 -- 9); sr. F Drew Melland (3-4 -- 7); sr. F Morgan Hoefs (3-4 -- 7); soph. F RyLee Vetsch (3-3 -- 6).
Top goalie: Soph. Andrew Peterson (92.6 save percentage, 1.54 goals-against average).
State tournament history: Red River has won 18 state titles. The Riders won state in 2020, the program's first state championship since 2016.