Grand Forks Central prepares for uphill regional battle with 7-1 over East Grand Forks
Connor Litzinger, Dominic Gerzsewski and Colton Bjorge combined for five goals and six assists in the win.
GRAND FORKS — Although it was not a region game, Grand Forks Central received quite the boost in their final regular-season home matchup.
In the penultimate game of its regular season, a 7-1 GFC win over East Grand Forks allowed the Knights to get ready for a rare uphill battle in the East Region tournament.
It was set in stone heading into Thursday the Knights would finish the year in either fifth or fourth place in the East. It’s the first year since their third-place 2015-2016 season they have not finished in first.
In fact, the last time Central has finished outside the top three was in 2013 when they missed the state tournament.
“Everybody makes it in so you just have to be playing your best this time of year and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Central head coach Grant Paranica said. “We’ve been searching for chemistry and we’ve juggled our lines around and those guys have been coming together for us. If we can continue on this track that’s what you want to be doing.”
Leading the way for the Knights this year, and in the first period against the Green Wave, has been their top line of Connor Litzinger, Dominic Gerszewski and Colton Bjorge. Each player picked up a multi-point night with Bjorge securing a hat trick with a short-handed breakaway in the third period.
“We feel like we’re ready and we’ve been playing really well. It’s taken a lot of adversity but we’ve bounced back really well,” Litzinger said.
Although he didn’t score, Gerszewski picked up four assists and Litzinger added two goals and an assist.
“Things are starting to come together for us and it's shown. We had a couple of bounces go our way that led to goals and we weren’t getting that early on with guys getting sick or injured,” Paranica said.
In total, the trio has combined for 89 points and has pushed the pace for the Knights offense. Paranica and the coaching staff have gone through various line combinations this year in an effort to maximize depth and distribute scoring throughout the lineup and have found what it was looking for with this grouping.
Bjorge, Gerszewski and Litzinger previously played on the same line two years ago, but things have been different this time around.
“It’s been a lot better than it was,” Bjorge joked. “We’ve got a little more chemistry now and work pretty well together.”
“We’ve been clicking pretty good. We just know where each other are at all times,” Gerszewski added.
It couldn’t have been more apparent than on the first goal of the night. Thirty-two seconds in and all three made a solid contribution on the ice that lead to the first goal on the first shot for Litzinger and the Knights.
Later in the first period, after Jaksen Panzer scored a shorthanded goal for the Green Wave, Bjorge ended the same power play with a one-timer from the right circle. Before his third tally, he scored his second goal at even-strength to make it 6-1, giving him an even-strength, power play and shorthanded goal.
“Seeing the success that they have had is pretty rewarding for me as a coach, but we still know we have a long way to go. This doesn’t guarantee us anything, it just says we’ve played well the past three games,” said Paranica.
Including Thursday’s victory, 10 of Central’s 11 wins have come by more than three goals. The only outlier came Tuesday against Fargo North. The Spartans and Knights split their regular-season series, a 3-2 North win and 6-4 Central win.
Central can count on seeing the Spartans again in the first game of the East Region tournament, as Fargo North has also locked down the fifth or fourth seed. Both will be ready whether it is home or away.
“It’s going to be who’s playing really well that game. It’s kind of fun to see us have to face that adversity and see if we struggle through it or take charge of it, ” Paranica said, from a coaching perspective.
The players are just as comfortable with the matchup.
“If we have everyone show up we’ll be just fine,” said Litzinger.
“We can out-skate them,” Gerszewski said.
“I feel like we’re definitely ready for them. If we keep playing like this I think we’ll be just fine,” said Bjorge.
It will come down to Saturday against West Fargo, as Central will fight to keep home-ice advantage throughout the regional tournament. A regulation win for Central would bring the opening round matchup to Purpur as they hold the goal differential tiebreaker with Fargo North.
Grand Forks Central 7,
East Grand Forks 1
First period – GFC 1-0: Connor Litzinger (Dominic Gerszewski, Dillon Kuntz), EGF 1-1: Jaksen Panzer SH, 2-1 GFC: Colton Bjorge (Evan Panzer) PP
Second period – 3-1 GFC: Dillon Kuntz (Bjorge, Panzer) PP, 4-1 GFC: Litzinger (Gerszewski), 5-1 GFC: Kuntz (Gerszewski, Panzer) PP
Third period – 6-1 GFC: Bjorge (Litzinger, Kyle Fulton), 7-1 GFC: Bjorge (Fulton, Gerszewski) SH
Goalie saves – GFC: Preston Diederich 25 saves, EGF: Chase Mero 14 saves, Elijah Kolstoe 13 saves