Focused on the present
The last time the Minot High boys hockey team won a first-round game at the state tournament no one on the current roster had been born.
The Magicians haven’t advanced to the state semifinals since 1992 and if they want to end that 22-year drought, they’ll have to defeat defending champion Grand Forks Red River in the opening round.
Minot, the West Region’s No. 2 seed, faces the East Region No. 3-seeded Roughriders tonight at approximately 7:30 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. Despite the Magicians’ first-round struggles in the past, they’re only worried about what’s in front of them.
“This is a different team, different year,” Minot coach Chad Burckhard said. “We like the way we’re playing right now. We’re playing pretty good hockey. We need to be good along the wall and in our own end and if we do those things, we’ll be able to compete.”
The teams are no strangers, having met in Grand Forks on Feb. 1. Red River’s Jonah Kratochvil scored twice in the third period and the Roughriders (14-9-1) outshot Minot 33-16 in a 3-2 victory over the Magicians.
“They come at you hard in their forecheck,” Burckhard said. “We’re going to have to be good in our own end. We had some scoring chances in that game we’re going to have to capitalize on the next time we play them. We’re excited about the opportunity. It’s going to be a challenging matchup, but it’s a matchup we can compete in.”
The Magicians (16-7-1) are confident this could be the year they finally advance to the semifinals. Like Burckhard, the players aren’t thinking about the program’s troubled history at state.
“We’re going to try and keep that out of our heads and focus on the game,” Minot senior forward Quinn Fuchs said. “We know if we execute our game plan, we put ourselves in a good position to win.
“We really do want it this year. We feel like we have the best chance in about 10 years. We feel like we’re actually good enough to win the state title and it starts with the first game.”
The path to the semifinals starts in the defensive zone. Last year, the Magicians surrendered six goals to Fargo Davies in a 6-2 loss in the first round. They allowed five goals combined in their final two games – both wins – to place fifth.
Minot junior goaltender Breydan Effertz enters the state tournament sporting a 2.84 goals-against average and a 89.6 save percentage. Effertz has three shutouts and allowed one goal four times this season.
“You have to keep the puck out of the zone as much as you can,” senior defenseman Taran Albright said. “We just want to do our best because it’s our last year so we might as well finish good.”
The Roughriders have been shutout three times this year, but has had success against teams from the west. Red River finished the regular season 3-0 against the top three seeds from the West Region.
Goals have been hard to come by at times for the Roughriders, whose leading scorers – Kratochvil and Eric Leach – each have 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists).
The Magicians have three players with more than 30 points this season, led by Fuchs’ 64 (23 g, 41 a). Junior forward Matt Flom leads the team in goals with 27 and senior forward Hayden Schwarz has a balanced point total with 18 goals and 15 assists.
With two teams qualifying for state after being No. 7 seeds in their respective region tournaments – Mandan and West Fargo – Burckhard believes nearly every team has a chance to win it all.
“I think there’s going to be seven teams that have a legitimate chance to win a state championship,” he said. “It’s going to have to be one game at a time and it’s going to have to be one shift at a time.”
Note: Minot will be without junior forward Brent Williams for its game against Red River. Williams is serving a game misconduct he received in the final minutes of the Magicians’ loss to Bismarck in the region championship on Saturday.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.