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UND-SCSU series features eight Greater Grand Forks players

The Gambucci Cup is not on the line this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. It may have that feel, though. An expected eight Greater Grand Forks high school players--representing all three local prep programs--will play in this we...

The puck gets past North Dakota goaltender Matt Hrynkiw for a St. Cloud State goal in the second period of Saturday's game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
The puck gets past North Dakota goaltender Matt Hrynkiw for a St. Cloud State goal in the second period of Saturday's game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

The Gambucci Cup is not on the line this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

It may have that feel, though.

An expected eight Greater Grand Forks high school players-representing all three local prep programs-will play in this weekend's showdown between No. 8 North Dakota and No. 12 St. Cloud State.

UND's roster features four from East Grand Forks Senior High-senior captain Gage Ausmus, junior alternate captain Tucker Poolman, freshman defenseman Colton Poolman and freshman forward Dixon Bowen.

It also has two from Grand Forks Central-junior alternate captain Johnny Simonson and freshman defenseman Casey Johnson.

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St. Cloud State's roster features two from Grand Forks Red River-sophomore forward Jacob Benson and sophomore defenseman Jon Lizotte.

Most of them played against each other in high school, battling for the Gambucci Cup, which goes to the top local team in head-to-head matchups. And all three schools won state championships with these players in high school-Colton Poolman and Bowen won one with the Green Wave, Simonson won one with the Knights and Benson and Lizotte won one with the Roughriders.

"Pretty cool, isn't it?" said Bill Chase, who coached Benson and Lizotte at Red River and coached against the other six. "It's exciting. It shows people that there's really good talent right here in this area. They can all play at that level. And it's not just playing at Division I, but some of them won a national championship.

"You see them when they are younger. You see everything they were able to do now, and now they're still doing it at a higher level. It's crazy cool. It was an honor to have coached them or coached against them."

While not all of them had college recruiters after them during their high school days, Chase said it was evident to him that they all had college futures in the game.

"With Benson and Lizotte, I got to see those guys in practice every day and you could see what they were doing to everyone in practice," Chase said. "The other guys were all guys we had to focus on."

Chase said the exciting part is that the run of talent isn't over. His team's prospects this season include juniors Braden Costello and Mason Salquist, regulars on Red River's undefeated title team a season ago.

Central has several intriguing prospects, including North Dakota's leading scorer from last season, Grant Johnson, and sophomore Judd Caulfield, who has already committed to UND.

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"There's a lot of talent there," he said.

But for now, he'll enjoy watching the former players compete in a top-15 college hockey series.

"It's pretty exciting," he said.

Poganski heads back home

While there are eight Grand Forks players suiting up in this game-six for UND and two for St. Cloud State-the only St. Cloud native on either team will play for the Fighting Hawks this weekend.

Junior Austin Poganski will head back to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center for the third time as a member of UND's team.

Poganski didn't register a point in his trip back home last season, but he had two assists as a rookie.

"Every game right now is crucial," Poganski said. "We're kind of in a little slump right now. So, every game we have to be ready to go. We can't afford any more mishaps."

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Rare sweeps in St. Cloud

North Dakota-St. Cloud State series have been remarkably tight in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

The teams have played 14 consecutive series in the building without either team earning a sweep.

St. Cloud State last swept UND at home in November 2001. That's also the last time the Huskies have won a series against UND in St. Cloud.

UND last swept the Huskies in St. Cloud in November 1998. Since then, UND has earned four series victories in the National Hockey Center with a tie and a win, but none by sweep.

Making the no-sweeps-in-St. Cloud stat even stranger, there have been seven sweeps between the teams in Grand Forks since 2001 (five by UND, two by St. Cloud State).

"They've had good teams the past few years," sophomore defenseman Christian Wolanin said. "We've had some good teams, too. Every time we play each other, we go toe-to-toe. It should be a good weekend."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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