GRAND FORKS — Fargo North-South didn’t get off to an ideal start Friday in the North Dakota girls hockey state semifinals. The Spruins got scored on three minutes in and had to climb out of an early 1-0 deficit. They spent almost 30 minutes playing catch up before grabbing their first lead.
The Spruins were playing on a big stage, in front of a sizable student section. There were some nerves and excited jitters North-South had to shake, and some sticks gripped too tight. But the Spruins didn’t let those early setbacks dictate the outcome.
“Things happen. Pucks are gonna go in,” Spruins head coach Parker Metz said. “Our whole game plan all year is we’re gonna get scored on, so we have to be a resilient group. That’s part of our team culture is resiliency. Bend don’t break. Today they showed that.”
That mentality fueled a 4-2 semifinal win over Grand Forks at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The top-seeded Spruins (19-2-0) will play in the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Ralph against No. 2 seed Fargo Davies, which defeated six-time defending state champion Bismarck 6-1 Friday afternoon. The title trip is North-South’s third championship appearance in four years.
“It feels good. It’s one more step in the right direction,” Metz said. “We got two steps in, one more to go. Job’s not done yet.”
The Spruins are well aware of what it takes to play in elimination games. That’s why Rylee Bartz didn’t sweat when she was awarded a penalty shot, which could’ve been the game’s deciding factor.
The arena fell silent. All eyes were on Bartz, the state’s leading scorer. But she stepped up, like she’s done all season.
Bartz made her way into the zone from center ice. She cut in from the left, saw an opening in the 5-hole, and took it.
“I was trying to stay calm and hope for the best,” Bartz said. “Once the whistle blew, I just went and did it.”
Bartz’s penalty shot, which gave North-South a 3-2 lead, was the turning point for the Spruins.
Grand Forks’ Emily Becker was called for a penalty 43 seconds into the game. She put her team on the two-minute penalty kill, but soon made up for it. The junior forward Becker got a feed from Morgan Stenseth down low and edged a Spruins defender to light the lamp 3 minutes, 21 seconds into the game.
North-South had three times as many shots as Grand Forks in the first period. After a few close calls, senior forward Abby Promersberger got the Spruins on the board at the midway point in the period. Promersberger, a University of St. Thomas hockey commit, picked the puck up at the top of the circle, deked around a defender and went top shelf to tie it at 1-1.
North-South didn’t get off to a fast start, but settled in as the period went on.
“We started off a little slower, but as we kept going through the game, it picked up and the bounces just ended up going our way,” Bartz said. “It felt good.”
North-South’s Megan Meyer was called for roughing when the first-period buzzer sounded, and the KnightRiders opened the second period on the power play. It took Grand Forks just 58 seconds to find the back of the net. Shaley Richards scored off the faceoff to give Grand Forks a 2-1 lead.
The KnightRiders carried that momentum throughout the period, making it tough on the Spruins to get quality scoring chances. The Spruins had some troubles turning the puck over and getting tangled up in the neutral zone, but eventually started connecting on some passes to stretch the ice.
It took three Grand Forks penalties for the Spruins to capitalize, but the third time was the charm for North-South. The Spruins pulled even at 2-all with a Madelyn Rohrich power-play goal with 5 minutes, 29 seconds to go in the second period. Rohrich’s shot from the point slid right through the 5-hole.
The Knightriders had three penalties in the second period, and entered the third down by one (3-2).
The last half of the third period was all Spruins. North-South pummeled Grand Forks goalie Kaylee Baker with shots, but couldn’t get one past until the last minute.
Promersberger got her second of the night with exactly one minute to go to set up the game-clinching score.
“We just kept going. We didn’t give up on each other,” Metz said. “We made a couple adjustments between the second and third. They weren’t major, but had to wake someone up a little bit. Luckily, it made a spark in a couple of them.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, GF, Becker (Stenseth), 3:21. 2, FN-S, Promersberger (I. Puhl), 8:03.
SECOND PERIOD: 3, GF, Richards (Stenseth), 0:58. 4, FN-S, Rohrich (Bartz), 11:31. 5, FN-S, Bartz, 15:19.
THIRD PERIOD: 6, FN-S, Promersberger (I. Puhl) 16:00.
SAVES: FN-S, Wuitschick 3-4-7—14. GF, Baker 11-11-15—37.