FARGO — The Fargo South-Shanley boys hockey team stunned teams and fans across North Dakota on Tuesday night as the Bruins did something no other North Dakota team has been able to do since February 2016 — defeat state powerhouse Grand Forks Central.
The Bruins snapped the Knights’ 81-game unbeaten streak against in-state opponents, topping the three-time defending state champions 3-2 at Scheels Arena.
Tuesday was the first loss Central (11-2, 8-1 EDC) had suffered against in-state competition since losing to Bismarck High in the state semifinals in February 2016. The Knights, who boasted a 79-0-2 record during the streak, were just short of four complete years since losing to an in-state competitor.
“It’s very difficult to beat Central, but they proved to themselves on a good day they could do it,” South-Shanley head coach Dean French said of his team.
The Bruins (8-3-1, 6-2-1 EDC) went into Tuesday’s game with the mentality that they could defeat the dominant program.
That mentality quickly became a reality.
“We have an awful lot of respect for Grand Forks Central and their program,” French said. “We think that they are the premier program. To be able to beat them is obviously a very big deal for our kids.”
Now, Fargo South-Shanley has to figure out how to play moving forward after accomplishing the impressive feat.
“Everybody in the state is going to have to react to all of this,” French said. “Now teams are going to be sort of eyeing you, trying to build game plans to beat you. Maybe in the past we were able to sneak up on teams, now we’re highly visible.”
Two players who have been at the forefront of igniting South-Shanley’s offense this year, Alex Senf and Drew Sandy, helped lift the Bruins to the massive win, which has been a big confidence booster for the Bruins.
Sophomore forward Senf chalked up three points, finding the back of the net to score the first goal and tallying two assists on the ensuing goals. Senior forward Sandy scored the second goal on a rebound and netted the game-winner on a touch pass from Senf.
The No. 1 thing French stressed heading into Tuesday’s game was basics. He tried to get his kids to look at the game from a zone by zone, moment by moment perspective, with a belief system that his bench could skate with them.
“It’s one thing to say to yourself, ‘I think we can win,’ or, ‘I think we could beat these guys on a certain day,’” French said. “It feels like we accomplished something special; that’s very rewarding for our kids.”
After snapping Central’s streak, the Eastern Dakota Conference may now see a shifting of the burden.
Central’s 81-game unbeaten streak coming to an end may very well release some pressure from the Knights, French said. The Bruins coach, who is in his fourth year at the helm, suspects some of the kids who had been carrying the streak’s torch had also been carrying a big burden on the ice.
“They probably woke up today with a little bit less burden, and they'll be able to play a little bit more free and loose, and that's actually dangerous for all the rest of us,” French said. “So we might’ve kicked the hornet’s nest there.”
Last year, Central scored a number of goals against the Bruins on its forecheck, and devastated Fargo South-Shanley with its transition game. South-Shanley minimized the Knights’ transition game on Tuesday, and worked to negate Central’s forecheck, which made it harder for the Knights to generate in-zone opportunities.
“I think over the course of the last two years, we're no longer able to sneak up on teams,” French said. “I think we've become a little bit more visible to teams, and teams are starting to gear up to play us a certain way. We have to react to that, we have to be prepared for that.”
A night of rare feats
South-Shanley's big upset wasn’t the only rare feat that occurred in North Dakota high school hockey Tuesday night.
Fargo North goalie Jesse Stahl is now 13th among his team in points after getting a pair of assists in the Spartans’ 3-0 victory against West Fargo.