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Fargo North ends state boys hockey title drought

GRAND FORKS - Zach Kraft's homecoming has brought home a state championship trophy to the Fargo North boys hockey team for the first time in 26 years.

Fargo North's team captains
Fargo North's team captains hold up their championship trophy after defeating Grafton-Park River in double-overtime Saturday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS - Zach Kraft's homecoming has brought home a state championship trophy to the Fargo North boys hockey team for the first time in 26 years.

Kraft, who grew up in Grand Forks, scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to lift the Spartans to a 3-2 win over Grafton-Park River on Saturday night in the North Dakota state championship game at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The Spartans won their fourth state title, but the program's first since 1986.

"Every year I came to the tournament dreaming that it would be me out there scoring the game-winning goal," said Kraft, who moved to Fargo his sophomore year of high school. "You know what? It came true."

The last time the Spartans played in the state championship game, North lost in five overtimes to Grand Forks Red River in 2001.

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Kraft was there.

"I thought about that before coming out for the last period," said Kraft, a senior center. "In 2001, they had a chance to finish and didn't. I thought, 'We have to come out this period and finish.' "

Kraft finished by digging a puck out from the corner, turning and firing a shallow-angle shot at Spoilers goalie Zach Suda. The shot ricocheted off Suda and into the net at 6 minutes, 13 seconds of the second overtime.

"I saw the ref point and the boys going crazy," said North coach Rob Aasand, a Grafton native. "I'm so proud of (Kraft). To fulfill a goal and dream of his and get the game winner is magical. It's poetic justice."

The Spartans came into the tournament as underdogs after losing 7-1 to then-undefeated Grand Forks Red River in the East Region title game. North also had lost to the Spoilers twice during the regular season.

"I never stopped believing in these kids, and they never stopped believing in themselves," Aasand said. "We knew we could reach the top. They had a drive: To put North on a higher pedestal in Fargo."

Aasand said his team was well aware of the drought between state championships at North.

"At the (John E. Carlson) Coliseum, those flags are up there and they're getting yellow," Aasand said. "Hey, it's been a long time. It was time to put a new flag up there by ol' 86."

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Grafton-Park River coach Scott Petersen expected the tight finish. The Spoilers and Spartans needed two overtimes in the East Region semifinals to decide a winner, as well.

"We knew it would be close," said Petersen, who was named the state's coach of the year. "They're a tough team and well-coached. Rob doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's done a lot of good things with that program. He deserves credit and those kids do, too."

Suda was named tournament MVP. He finished with 18 saves against North.

Spartans goalie Nick Schmit also had a standout tournament. He finished with 23 saves Saturday.

"Schmit is always on top of his game," Kraft said. "He never takes a day off. That's why we win. He deserves all the credit."

The Spoilers were denied in search of their sixth state title. It was the first championship game without a Grand Forks school since 1992.

The Spoilers, who also lost in last year's state championship, held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on goals from Jade Miller and Austin Campbell.

But North's Jackson Graalum tied the game at 2 at 7:15 of the third period. The sophomore, who was selected to the all-tournament team, had two goals in the quarterfinals, two more in the semifinals and one in the final.

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Graalum's fifth goal of the tournament set the stage for Kraft.

"Get pucks on net and good things can happen," Kraft said of the game winner. "I'm sure happy it did."

FIRST PERIOD: 1. GPR, Miller (Peterson, Rehovsky) 7:31. 2. FN, Selberg (Teschendorf, Thompson) 8:00.

SECOND PERIOD: 3. GPR, Campbell (Feltman) 14:16.

THIRD PERIOD: 4. FN, Graalum (Teschendorf, Thompson) 7:15.

SECOND OVERTIME: 5. FN, Kraft (Thompson) 6:13.

SAVES: FN, Schmit 3-4-9-7-23. GPR, Suda 4-8-5-1-18.

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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