Defending state champion Grand Forks Central, 6-0-2 with a 40-10 scoring advantage on its opponents, has had things pretty much to its liking this hockey season.
When Central needed to dig itself out of a hole, however, it found the moxie to get the job done. Grand Forks let a 2-0 lead escape and rallied from a 4-3 deficit to defeat previously undefeated Century 6-5 Thursday at the VFW Sports Center.
In the late game, Grand Forks Red River downed Bismarck 4-2.
Central forward Lucas Kanta, who came up big in the third period, said the victory was significant on a couple of counts. It required some grit and the six-goal output was welcome after a three-game stretch that produced just eight Central tallies.
“We realized ‘this is a good team we’re playing’ and we knew we had to come out and play hard,” said Kanta, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior. “When the chips were down we came out with a win.”
Certainly the game didn’t start out like an impending dogfight. Central scored on its first two shots to take a 2-0 lead in the first minute. Brandon Holt struck first with just 33 seconds expired and Zack Murphy followed suit 19 seconds later.
Troy Olson, the Century coach, immediately called a timeout to stabilize his team, and the Patriots returned to action ready to do battle.
Senior forward Isaiah Thomas gave his team a huge lift by breaking into the scoring column at 11:39, lifting a shot over Kaleb Johnson’s left shoulder to make it 2-1.
Kirklan Irey, who assisted on Thomas’ goal, tied the game on the same shift, finding the net during a scramble in front of Johnson, and the battle was joined.
Central went ahead 3-2 in the second minute of the second period when Will Howard found himself all alone with the puck on Cooper Leininger’s doorstep and beat the CHS goalie from point-blank range.
Two penalties in a 15-second span made Central vulnerable, and Century capitalized with a pair of power play goals. Brandon Schaffer scored with Grand Forks skating two men short at 4:23 and Irey converted a nifty pass from Thomas at 5:42 to give the Patriots a 4-3 lead.
Holt gave Central a 4-4 tie going into the period break, slipping a long blast from near the left point past Leininger with 42 second remaining in the middle session.
At that point, Kanta swung into action. He scored on a rebound with just 37 seconds expired in the third period and set up Kyler Briske for a goal at mid-period. Steaming down the right side, Kanta slipped a short pass to Briske in the low slot to put the visitors up 6-4.
Irey made it a one-goal game and finished off a hat trick by scoring unassisted from the right circle with 3:02 to play. A little over a minute later, Olson pulled Leininger in an effort to put some heat on Johnson. The Patriots had the final two shots of the game, but were unable to score.
The setback was Century’s first. Central, which has skated to ties with Grand Forks Red River and Fargo Davies, remained unbeaten.
“It was a really gritty win,” Kanta said. “We weren’t getting the bounces we wanted, but we bore down and they eventually came to us,” he said.
Kanta said he thought the game might turn into a goalfest based on Century’s offensive statistics. Going into the game, the Patriots had outscored eight opponents 70-10.
“I knew it was a possibility because offensively they’re pretty talented,” he observed. “We knew they might get a few goals, but we responded to that pretty well and got a few ourselves.”
The teams swap opponents tomorrow. Century plays Red River at 1 p.m. and Central takes on Bismarck at 3:15 p.m. at the VFW Sports Center.
G.F. Red River 4, Bismarck 2
Red River scored the final two goals of the game to remove Bismarck from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The Roughriders opened a 2-0 lead in the first period, Bismarck tied it in the second and Red River took over from there.
Red River struck hard in the middle of the first period, Mason Salquist notching a power play goal at 5:10 and Coby Tweten adding a second Roughrider goal at 6:16.
Caleb Petrie got Bismarck on the scoreboard late in the first session, and Chase Fuhrman pulled the Demons even at 2-2 with 4:22 lapsed in the second period.
That proved to be the high-water mark for the Demon, however. Tyler Savage put Red River back on top a couple of minutes after Fuhrman’s tally, and Tweten, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound defenseman, added a power play insurance goal in the middle of the third period.
Bismarck finished with a slim 24-22 edge in shots on net.
Red River improved to 6-0-2 with the victory. The Roughriders have played Grand Forks Central and Fargo Davies to deadlocks. Bismarck lost for the first time in eight starts.