FARGO — Grand Forks Red River head coach Tim Skarperud couldn’t have asked for better execution from his special teams Tuesday night.
The Roughriders scored two power-play goals, a shorthanded goal and went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill to clinch a 4-2 road win over Fargo Davies at Farmers Union Insurance Center at Scheels Arena.
“You talk about a lot of things — things that are win or lose games — and special teams is one of them,” Skarperud said. “Tonight we were happy with the power play. Two big goals there. We moved the puck real well, and did a great job on the kill. There’s so many things that come into play with a victory, and special teams was key tonight.”
In a close Eastern Dakota Conference boys hockey matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3-ranked teams, the Roughriders (5-1), who were ranked No. 2 in the statewide preseason coaches poll, won the battle with its special teams.
The Roughriders held a narrow one-goal lead (3-2) over Davies with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining in the game when the Eagles got on the power play — their second in a three-minute span. Red River fought off both penalties, but did more than just protect the advantage.
Senior forward Zach Hinschberger scored a shorthanded empty-netter in the final 32 seconds to push Red River’s lead to 4-2. Davies (3-2) pulled its goalie in the final minute for a 6-on-4 advantage.
“Mason Reynolds made a good play to get the puck out of the zone,” Hinschberger said. “We kinda forechecked it, and then he backed out, and I came in on the forecheck and was able to pickpocket a kid, made one kid miss and had a wide open net.”
It was a fun, but stressful final five minutes for Red River’s bench, Hinschberger said.
“The guys did a great job. We were blocking shots, getting the pucks out of the zone,” Skarperud said. “Our goalie did his job — kicking, making some great saves for us. You just have to stay calm and rely on the guys that they’re going to do their job.”
Roughriders sophomore goalie Andrew Peterson had 25 saves. Davies goalie Trent Wiemken tallied 24.
“Good hard fought battle between both teams,” Skarperud said. “Obviously a big EDC game and we’re happy to come out with a win.”
The Roughriders struck first seven minutes in. Cooper Freije fired a shot from the point, which was tipped into the back of the net through Wiemken’s five-hole by Carter Sproule.
Davies’ speed helped create chances, but Red River was strong in its defensive zone.
The Eagles had some trouble getting tangled up in the neutral zone, but found a way to score with a minute and a half remaining in the first frame.
Davies forward Jackson Archbold buried a rebound from sophomore forward Landon Dauner, sending the puck past Peterson’s shoulder to knot it at 1-1.
The familiar EDC opponents got off to a chippy start in the second period. The teams were called for coincidental roughing minors 50 seconds in. Davies’ Easton Rerick took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to put Red River on the power play early.
Less than 40 seconds later, Brendan Mullen tipped another Freije shot from the point to put Red River up 2-1. The Roughriders added a second power-play goal four minutes later. Jake Grandstrand went top shelf to push Red River’s lead.
Though separated by 80 miles, there’s a brewing rivalry between the teams.
“We’ve been playing against these guys growing up,” Hinschberger said. “We’ve always played close games with Davies, so I’d say there’s definitely been a rivalry developed.”
The teams split a win and a loss each in both meetings last season.
Davies spent a lot of time in Red River’s zone throughout the second frame, but couldn’t find the back of the net until the final two minutes. Once again, the Eagles closed out the period with a goal. Dauner went bar down to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Eagles had three power-play chances in the third period, but none resulted in a goal.
“We worked really hard, and to come get this road win tonight against a good Davies team feels great,” Hinschberger said.
FIRST PERIOD: 1, GFRR, Sproule (Freije, Mullen), 6:50. 2, FD, Archbold (Dauner, Schaff), 15:36.
SECOND PERIOD: 3, GFRR, Mullen (Freije, Scribner), 1:33. 4, GFRR, (Hinschberger, Coleman), 6:20. 5, FD, Dauner, 15:00.
THIRD PERIOD: 6, GFRR, Hinschberger, 16:29.
SAVES: FD, Wiemken 12-6-6—24. GFRR, Peterson 5-7-13—25.