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Former Red River linemates set to go head-to-head in college hockey showdown

St. Cloud State's Mason Salquist played with UND's Jackson Kunz and Dane Montgomery during the 2017-18 high school season.

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Mason Salquist (left), Dane Montgomery (center) and Jackson Kunz (right) pose for a photo after the 2018 North Dakota boys state hockey tournament in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Submitted photo.

GRAND FORKS — The last time they were on Ralph Engelstad Arena's ice together, they posed for a picture to commemorate the moment.

Mason Salquist, Dane Montgomery and Jackson Kunz all had bleached blonde hair, a longtime Grand Forks Red River boys hockey state tournament tradition. Montgomery had a mullet, too.

They just finished their final game as Red River linemates, a 3-1 win over Tyler Kleven and Fargo Davies in the third-place game.

All were about to go in different directions with their hockey careers.

Salquist, a graduating senior, was headed to play for the Janesville Jets in the North American Hockey League. Montgomery, a sophomore, was set to play for the Sioux Falls Power program. Kunz, a freshman, was going to Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep School.

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So, the trio strolled back on the ice, stood in front of the Zamboni doors with no helmets or gloves and snapped one last picture in their Red River uniforms.

But that wasn't the end.

All three progressed through prep and junior hockey, landed Division-I college commitments and will be back together on that same ice sheet this weekend as UND hosts St. Cloud State in a matchup of two nationally ranked teams.

Salquist is a freshman for the Huskies. Montgomery and Kunz are rookies at UND.

"You never really think you're going to grow up and play against each other in juniors or in college," Montgomery said. "It's pretty awesome we get to do that."

They got a taste of it last month when the teams split a two-game series in St. Cloud.

"We had a moment where there was a little scrum in front of the net," Kunz said of Salquist. "He started giving me slashes in the back of the leg. I turned around and he said, 'You want to get into it?' or something like that. That was pretty fun."

A mentor

The 2017-18 season was the first at the varsity level for Montgomery and Kunz.

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They began skating with the Roughriders during summer ice rentals. Salquist, an accomplished senior who led Red River to a state title as a sophomore and was all-state as a junior, became a mentor for Montgomery and Kunz.

"He'd always hang out with us and make sure we were feeling included with the older guys so we didn't feel left out as the two young guys," Montgomery said. "Honestly, it was really cool that he did that. It's a lifelong friendship built from playing hockey together."

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Mason Salquist (left) and Dane Montgomery (right) sit on Jackson Kunz's lap during the 2017-18 season. Salquist, Montgomery and Kunz were linemates at Grand Forks Red River.
Submitted photo.

That continued during the season.

Kunz and Salquist were on a line from the start. Montgomery joined them in short order and they were grouped together for the rest of the season. They combined for 138 points in 27 games (Salquist 61, Kunz 40, Montgomery 37) as Red River went 21-4-2.

"Mason kind of showed us how to do everything," Montgomery said. "He pretty much took us under his wing and showed us what practice is going to be like, how we had to dominate practice. When we got to games, he led the way. In every faceoff, he was telling us what we were doing and making sure we knew everything that was going on."

Salquist said his goal was to help Montgomery and Kunz in their transition from bantams.

"It was just to help show them all the work you have to put in to get to that next level," Salquist said. "They did really well. They transitioned really well. It was nice to have a couple of young guys come into the program and contribute to the team. It was nice to have them as linemates."

Salquist coming home

This weekend will mark Salquist's first time playing in The Ralph since that third-place game in 2018.

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"It's going to be awesome," Salquist said. "I'm really excited about it. It will be a lot of fun with family and friends in the stands and a full Ralph Engelstad Arena."

Salquist's Huskies are coming in on a hot streak. They're 4-0 since Christmas, outscoring their opponents 28-4. Salquist has three goals and six points this season.

"I was really excited about Salquist's line over the weekend," St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said after the Huskies swept Miami. "I thought they did a great job. We've been looking for that. They can give us O-zone shifts that create momentum. Maybe they don't score a ton, but they're constantly on the other team's 'D,' making them defend and giving you some momentum."

Salquist might wind up taking shifts against his old linemates.

"I think, for him, it will be a little different," Montgomery said. "We'd always have fans cheering for us when we'd play (in The Ralph). Now, he's not going to have as many. But I think it will be a really cool experience for him to be back in Grand Forks. He's going to have a lot of family and friends in the crowd and everyone will be super excited to see him."

St. Cloud State at UND

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Records: UND 13-10 (8-4 NCHC); St. Cloud State 14-6 (6-4).
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Stream: NCHC.tv.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

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UND freshman Nick Portz (of St. Cloud), St. Cloud State freshman Mason Salquist (of Grand Forks) and UND freshman Jackson Kunz (of Grand Forks) were teammates in the Minnesota High School Elite League.
Submitted photo.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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