Grand Forks Red River had just about secured the Cushman Cup before Thursday’s matchup with Grand Forks Central thanks to a 5-1 victory over the Knights earlier this season. But the Roughriders left no doubt, securing the trophy with a 2-1 win over the Knights in their penultimate regular-season game.
“The trophy is always fun,” Red River head coach Luke Glasoe. “We had already done such a great job in that first leg winning 5-1 but it’s nice to win the trophy after actually winning the game.”
While every rivalry win has its perks, this one strengthened Red River for the postseason. The Riders improved to 9-2-2 on the season and has locked up the East Region second seed for the upcoming state tournament in Jamestown.
“All the weight of needing a point was off our shoulders. So it almost seemed like we started the game relaxed in that way. They had a lot of really good chances in the beginning,” Glasoe said.
Despite the vast difference in records, the Knights and Roughriders battled hard in the game’s first half. Both sides had to find their footing, but just after the 20-minute mark a flurry of action for each offense happened almost in succession.
Edem Akohim had a wide-open net after a clean cross from the far sideline, but the Central forward could not come up with a strong attempt and missed the cage.
Then Owen Fields was given a workout. In the previous match, the Roughrider strikers tested Fields’ aggression on floating chip shots that would arc over the keeper’s outstretched hands. This would continue on Thursday.
“More than anything Owen is a great kid to coach. He’s a coach’s dream as far as his attitude,” Central coach Luke Schulz said about the senior goaltender. “On the field, he’s been awesome. Keeping us in a lot of games even in some of them when we shouldn’t have been. He’s going to be missed big time next year.”
At one point junior defender Quinn Roehl needed to come to the aid of Fields when a ball was slowly trickling towards the goal line. It seemed destined to be the first score of the game, but Roehl redirected the ball at the last second.
The actual opening goal came quickly off a second chance from a free-kick. Ethan Dockter booted it home from deep with just over six minutes left in the half.
Fields continued to face a barrage in the second half and was up to the challenge. The Knights, who had successfully suppressed Red River star Gannon Brooks in the first half, saw a spread-out offense that challenged Fields and the defense from every angle.
Past the 20 minute mark of the second half Central rarely challenged the Roughrider side of the pitch. The Red River attack was relentless and finally broke through with 10:43 remaining in the game.
Trevor Olderbak was sent upfield on a breakaway by Lukas Heydt and the senior forward fired one by Fields, cushioning the Red River lead to 2-0.
For the tired Knights squad, it was a sign of their 11th total loss of the season. They have not won in conference play this year, either, with one final EDC game left against West Fargo High.
That was before a free-kick just outside the 20-yard line set up a Kamden Kraft goal as a bright spot for the Knights
“We had a pretty young team this year with a lot of guys getting their first varsity experience. From the beginning of the year to now we’ve just been playing a lot more cohesive. We’re seeing guys getting comfortable with the speed of varsity and getting better together,” Schulz said.
On the other side, the Roughriders have one more game against West Fargo Sheyenne and then it is tournament time in Jamestown. At the moment, their first-round opponent looks to be Bismarck Century, but there is a tight race for the third seed in the west.
“We’re a pretty dangerous team. There’s still quite a bit of untapped potential on this team. We’ve had moments when we really played well and there’s still room to improve heading into the postseason,” said Glasoe.