Looking to build momentum in final stretch, Grand Forks Central shuts down East Grand Forks 2-1
Hoffman and Bjorge score big goals for the Knights while Diederich makes 23 saves, with 10 coming in the third period.
GRAND FORKS – It was a game of inches between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks Central at Purpur Arena on Thursday, but Central’s defensive sticks seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead with just under two minutes left in regulation, junior goaltender Preston Diederich stretched with all his might to get into the splits and stop a tying effort from the Green Wave. It would be the closest EGF would come to getting that tying goal in the fading seconds and the Knights were able to pull off an exciting win.
“Those last couple of minutes I felt confident that my defenders would block as many shots as they could and get it out of the zone as quickly as they could, so I just needed to do my part,” Diederich said after his 23 save performance.
It was a game that featured heavy pressure from East Grand Forks on the forecheck and with it came turnovers at the blue line and misfires when attempting to get out of the zone. However, when push came to shove in the high danger areas of the ice, the Knights were strong on their sticks.
“I thought we played well defensively,” Central coach Grant Paranica said. “Any time there was a dangerous opportunity for us (Preston) was there to backstop us. All in all it was a really good game on our part.”
Benefitting Central was scoring the first goal of the game and being able to play with the lead. After getting hemmed in their zone for some time, an odd-man rush developed for them where Rylan Hoffman was able to throw a puck on net from beyond the hashmarks and beat Chase Mero on his glove side.
“We always try to race for the first goal every game and every period and we kept that mentality going in. It gave us a little more breathing room. Still, it was a one goal game and we had to play right until the end and it showed a lot of character,” said Paranica.
Even being down a man late in the second period did not stop the disruption for Central as they were able to kill off their only penalty of the game and then draw one themselves in the final two minutes.
There wouldn’t be a long chase for the first goal of the third period. A turnover at the Green Wave blueline brought Colton Bjorge down on Mero and he roofed a shot into the top corner to give his team a two-goal lead.
The Green Wave would finally be able to convert 7:14 into the final frame as Jace Van Eps was there at the back door to finish a passing play with Cooper Hills and Hunter Varnson. From there, Central was able to shut things down the rest of the way.
“Defensemen were driving things to the wall, which made saves a lot easier. They weren’t letting up passes across the ice either,” Diederich said.
An empty net for the final 2:24 seconds for East Grand Forks brought on even more pressure, but three clutch faceoff wins from Bjorge and Evan Panzer gave Central the possession time they needed to hold on.
“To start with the puck rather than having to chase it for the first few seconds of a shift was a huge difference. Colton Bjorge came through and then he looked a little tired and Evan Panzer went out and did a tremendous job,” Paranica said.
The win provides a boost for the Central locker room before heading into another tough matchup with a top Minnesota program in undefeated Warroad in their penultimate game of the regular season.
“We’re looking to build momentum and this is a great situation for us, to play East Side and Warroad and then face Fargo North for what will probably determine home ice for us. It’s a great build up to that,” said Paranica.
North and Central are currently tied for the third spot in the conference. The Spartans will play South/Shanley on Friday before their matchup with Central on Feb. 7.