FARGO — A two-goal second period made the difference for a young Fargo South-Shanley squad as it defeated West Fargo 4-1 in a season-opening Eastern Dakota Conference boys hockey game on Tuesday at Farmers Union Insurance Center.
The Bruins have a lot of scoring to replace after making a run to the state championship game last year. They’re missing their top three scorers from a year ago — Drew Sandy, Alex Senf and Seb Zasada — but that didn’t seem to slow them down.
“We have so many young guys this year,” Fargo South-Shanley coach Dean French said. “It’s important just to get to know how people react to situations. We practiced a lot, but there’s certain things that happen in a game that I can’t draw up. You have to experience them.”
Junior John Gores stepped right in and shouldered the scoring load for the Bruins with two goals and an assist. His first goal broke a 1-1 tie and wound up being the game-winner. His assist on a John Lang goal made it a two-goal game. He added another with three minutes to go to close the door.
Gores has made it a habit of coming up big in season openers. He had a kick return touchdown, a pick-6 and a rushing touchdown for Fargo Shanley in the opening game of the football season.
“I’m not sure where that success comes from in season openers,” Gores said. “I just go out there and give it my all. That’s all there is to it.”
Two of Gores’ points came as a combination with fellow forward Lang. The tandem has been playing together for years and has chemistry and experience level together that makes them difficult to defend. They connected on a pair of passes to give Lang an open look.
Lang broke free on net on the left wing with support from Gores coming up the right. He passed across to Gores who passed it right back to Lang who had an open goal and fired it right into the middle of the net.
“Lang and I have been playing together since Squirts — since we were the youngest,” Gores said. “It’s great, it’s like we know what we’re going to do out there. Having that anticipation is huge.”
“Those guys have old school communication,” French said. “It used to be that you could know where your guy was by the way he sounded or just the things he did. You didn’t even have to see them. Those two have that kind of chemistry.”
Senior goalie Zach Sandy captained the squad from between the pipes. French said the netminder was hoarse after the game from yelling out instructions to his young teammates. And he made a number of huge saves to keep his team in the game.
“He’s a leader,” French said. “He was directing traffic out there. He really was quarterbacking the game back there. It wasn’t just about making saves. He was trying to control play from behind the net and get it out. He was helping them with where to go on breakouts and where the pressure was. That’s what you get out of a senior experienced goaltender like Zach.”
The Bruins lived in their attacking zone throughout the first period. Seemingly every time the Packers tried to clear it out, a Bruins player was there to sweep in and take possession back. It seemed like only a matter of time before they would take the lead.
South-Shanley finally broke through with a Tanner Kirkeby goal with 6:52 to go in the period. He picked up a pass in the high slot and wristed a shot top shelf into the net. Ben Spanier and Jake Skarperud had assists on the goal.
The Packers struck back on a counter attack four minutes later as Owen Witt set up a Jayden Strand goal. Witt took possession on a counter attack, skated up the slot, and cut into the left circle. He drew Sandy to his side and sent a pass across his face to Strand who deposited it in a wide open net.
Gores took the lead back early in the second period with an assist from Zach Boren.
“Taking the lead back was huge,” Gores said. “It swung the momentum back in our favor. And we kind of knew that if we could get up on them, we could hold them down. That was big.”