GRAND FORKS — Bismarck hockey coach Mike Peluso says that when you lose a state championship game, you never really shake it.
The 2013-14 Demons will never know that feeling.
Drawing on every bit of the experience and depth and conditioning that they had displayed during the postseason, the Demons dominated the third period and scratched out a 2-1 victory over Grand Forks Central in the state championship game at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday.
The goal — fittingly scored by Tre Kautzman and set up by tournament MVP Jared Spooner — secured Bismarck’s first championship ever and the first for a West Region team since Minot in 1992.
Peluso played on the 1992 Bismarck team that was upset by Minot in that championship game, and he coached the Demons to the finals twice before, only to come up empty.
“I think those boys wanted to do something for everybody that ever was part of the Maroon and White, and it was a pretty special moment,” Peluso said. “We finally figured out how to sneak one out of here. Pretty cool.”
Locked in a 1-1 tie entering the third period, the Demons dominated the final 17 minutes. Controlling the game with their forecheck and winning battles in the neutral zone, it was only a matter of time until the Demons got pucks to the net.
Once they did, they buried their chance.
Spooner, who led all tournament scorers with 10 points, found a way to get the puck to Kautzman even after a Central defender got his stick on the initial attempt. Kautzman, who scored a tournament-high seven goals, wasn’t about to miss this chance.
“Spooner just made a good play again and dished it over, and I had a wide open net and put it away,” Kautzman said.
It was the biggest goal yet from the lethal duo.
“We’ve been saying it all weekend. Great players make big plays at big times, and they certainly did that,” Peluso said. “They’re special athletes. They’re both so competitive that they want to do well, and they push each other. They made each other better.”
Kautzman’s goal came with 10:42 remaining. That was a lot of time to run off, but the Demons managed, even with a string of three consecutive penalties that kept them short-handed for most of the final seven minutes.
Bismarck goalie Brett Malkmus didn’t even face a shot in the first three minutes of penalty killing, and the senior capably handled every one down the stretch, including a wraparound by Austin Johnson in the closing seconds.
Bismarck wasted no time getting the jump on the Knights. Spooner fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle over the glove of Central goalie Taner Bender at 2:25 of the first period for a 1-0 lead. It was Spooner’s 26th goal of the season. The Demons nearly got another one quickly when Kautzman created a chance for Spooner, but Bender was able to make a pad save.
The Demons controlled the period — the official stat sheet gave them an 8-1 edge in quality chances — but had to settle for a 1-0 lead at the break.
The Knights tied the game at the 4:25 mark of the second period. A Bismarck defender blocked a shot from Casey Aarvig but Cole Kirchoffner was on the loose puck and put it away for the equalizer. It was Kirchoffner’s third goal of the tournament.
The score was tied heading into the third period. And despite much of the team battling illness — either flu or food poisoning — the Demons found a way to do what no Bismarck team before them could.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been on the losing side of it as a player and a coach. You don’t shake it,” Peluso said. “I knew we had enough of a team to do it. We just had to figure out a way.”
The Demons did just that.
“It feels good to bring one back out West,” Kautzman said. “I think this is a good start for Western hockey. Minot took third. I think Western hockey is moving forward.”
GF Central 0 1 0 — 1
Bismarck 1 0 1 — 2
First period: 1. B, Jared Spooner 26 (Cody Evanson), 2:25.
Second period: 2. GFC, Cole Krichoffner 15 (Ryan Griggs, Casey Aarvig), 4:25.
Third period: 3. B, Tre Kautzman 14 (Spooner), 6:18.
Goalie saves: GFC — Taner Bender 7-9-3—19. B — Brett Malkmus 7-13-4—24.
Penalties: GFC 3 minors. B 5 minors.
Records: GFC 19-7; B 23-4.
Senior athlete of the year: Harrison Aide, Bottineau-Rugby.
Coach of the year: Grant Paranica, G.F. Central.
MVP: Jared Spooner, Bismarck.
Bismarck — Tre Kautzman, Jared Spooner. G.F. Central — Casey Johnson. Mandan — Sawyer Schmidt. Minot — Hayden Schwarz. West Fargo — Jake Hoy.