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Grand Forks Red River seeing the parity as state tournament begins

The Roughriders, the No. 3 seed from the East Region, have been state front-runners, as well as needed to cling to a win in double overtime to advance to state.

RR FgoSouthShanley hky3.jpg
Fargo South/Shanley's Jake Skarperud blocks Red River's Luc Bydal's shot as goalie Noel Olsonawski looks on.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — For the last six years, North Dakota state boys hockey was pretty predictable.

A Grand Forks school has won the last six state championships, three of which were undefeated seasons.

The story of the 2021-22 season, however, has been parity.

Grand Forks Red River knows that well.

The Roughriders, the No. 3 seed from the East Region, rotated off and on early this season with Fargo Davies as the likely state tournament favorite. Then at the East Region tournament, Fargo South-Shanley beat both Red River and Davies.

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And Red River needed a double-overtime goal to escape the grasp of Fargo North in the state qualifier.

And defending champion Grand Forks Central missed the state tournament for the first time since 2013 by allowing West Fargo Sheyenne to make the program's first state tournament.

So when the Riders (18-5-0) open the state tournament Thursday in the late quarterfinal against Bismarck Legacy in Fargo, it's clear the path to a championship is wide open for all.

"As a competitor and athlete, that's what you love," Red River coach Tim Skarperud said. "You don't want blowouts. You play to compete and have good, competitive battles.

"What a year it has been that way. Sheyenne makes it for the first time ever. You had to show up every night. You also had Davies, South, Central and North. There weren't many freebies ... and that's what you want as a competitor."

This year's state tournament was nearly the first without a Grand Forks representative, as the Riders needed to put 60 shots on North goalie Ryan Robison to beat the Spartans.

In a way, though, Skarperud is glad his team faced that challenge.

"What I really liked is we weren't afraid of the moment," Skarperud said. "I thought our guys battled hard. When you have a game like that, it can go a long ways to make you battle-tested. When you have that right before (state) ... you have a game like that and win and you now believe that can happen."

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Red River's strength this season has been its depth.

The Roughriders boast six solid defensemen. Offensively, Red River's "third" line has likely been the team's top producer in the final month of the season.

That line of Grant Gardner-Luc Bydal-Skylar Severson is the only line Red River kept intact when it needed to shuffle some things following the loss of third-leading scorer Carson Skarperud, Tim's son, who was injured for the season in the region semifinals.

"(Depth) has been one of the things I've loved most about this team," Skarperud said. "We've had three lines scoring and our so-called third line maybe leads our team in points the last month."

GF Red River at a glance

Coach: Tim Skarperud.
Record: 18-5-0.
Seed: No. 3 from East Region.
Quarterfinal game: GF Red River vs. Bismarck Legacy, 30 minutes after a 5:30 p.m. game.
Site: Scheels Arena, Fargo.
State tournament history: Red River has won 18 state championships, the most recent coming in 2020.
Scoring leaders: Jr. F Carter Sproule 16 goals-21 assists – 37 points; jr. F Mikey Coleman 15-21 – 36; jr. F Carson Skarperud 10-16 – 26; jr. F Mason Reynolds 14-9 – 23; sr. F Jake Grandstrand 10-9 – 19; jr. F RyLee Vetsch 7-12 – 19; sr. D Wyatt LeDuc 4-14 – 18; soph. F Grant Gardner 6-12 – 18; sr. D Cooper Freije 4-11 – 15; jr. F Dillon Jackson 9-5 –14; soph. F Luc Bydal 8-6 – 14.
Top goaltender: Noah Burger 17-4-1, 1.86 goals-against average, 90.4 save percentage.
Coach Skarperud on the quick turnaround from Monday's state qualifier: "(Tuesday) was one of those days where we had been on the ice for like nine days in a row. So it was a quick 40-minute skate. Get a sweat in and not wear them out too bad."

Related Topics: GF RED RIVER
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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