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Skaters split in key regional action

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One up, one down meant the West Fargo Packers held on, ever so precariously, to their grip on the fourth-seed in the East Region with their play in local hockey action last week.

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The Packers came from behind to knock of Grand Forks Central front of a solid crowd last Tuesday, completing the season sweep of an old nemesis.

Junior defenseman Greg Slominski scored in the ninth minute of the game, midway through the first period, to give the Knights an early lead. Slominskis unassisted goal beat Brady Houkom, and it was the second time Central scored first in the two contests with the Packers.

But West Fargo, like it did in Grand Forks, rallied back, answering just before the first period ended, as Mitch Jore knocked in a shot that beat goaltender Josh Ness in the 17th minute. Jeff Vance and Shane Erdmann, the teams leading scorer with 19 points on the year, earned assists on the play.

After a tense second and third period, Dereck Mattson, a senior forward who broke onto the scene at last years regional tournament, scored the game-winner, sending Packer fans home happy, with a goal just before the 15 minute mark. Unassisted, Mattson finally cracked the wall set up by Ness, who stopped 28 of 30 shots in the win, including 15 shots in the third.

We have some guys who can really finish when theyre given the opportunity, Ross Richards, who completed his first season sweep of the Knights in this century, said. Dereck is one of those guys. He has a good nose for the puck.

But as high as the Packers were Tuesday after finishing off their season series with the Knights, they were just as bitter Friday, as the North Spartans pulled off an incredible upset in West Fargo. The Spartans rolled out to a 3-0 lead, and netminder Justin Welk stood on his head for the entire night, stopping 30 shots and several quality chances, en route to his third shutout of the season.

In the first nine minutes of the first period, officials tapped West Fargo for three penalties, and Fargo North made the home team pay. After a freshman burned Houkom for the games first score, the Spartans used the man-advantage to score twice, and by the seven minute mark of the first period, the upset was unfolding at the Veterans Memorial Arena.

Grant Narveson, a ninth-grader, opened the scoring less than two minutes into the contest, converting on a cross-rink feed from junior forward Ben LaBounty, beating Houkom. Less than four minutes later, after West Fargo was whistled for its first penalty of the night, the Spartans made it 2-0, when Seth Fischer converted on a Tanner Bombenger feed down low.

But the backbreaker came at 9:49 of the first period when Tanner Klein broke free down the left side and slammed home a pass up ice by Fischer, and the Spartans had three goals on their first five shots.

The Packers, however, have been in the come-from-behind situation a lot as of late. After falling down 4-0 to Mandan in conference play 10 days ago, West Fargo worked its way back. And on Tuesday, as noted, the Packers came down from a 1-0 to score its seventh conference win of the year.

The Packers just couldnt solve Welk, who was most impressive in the second period, when he stopped three quality Packer chances and turned away a dozen shots on goal total. He would face, and save, 11 more shots in the third period, though the Packers had run out of hope in the waning moments of the game.

Houkom, meanwhile, did his job in the second and third period, stopping a combined 11 shots en route to 17 saves on the day. But it was a rough first nine minutes for the senior, who had the regions fourth-best save percentage and goals-against average going into Friday nights action.

We have two guys, Brady and Colin (Guidinger), who we feel really good about putting back behind us in the net, and theyve both done really well thus far, Richards said. You just hope they dont have an off night at home.

Welk, meanwhile, played way above his nearly five goals per game average, and proved to be the top star of the night.

West Fargo, which has lost three of its last four region games, will try to rebound on Thursday in hostile territory, playing No. 3 Grafton-Park River at the Spoilers rink. West Fargo closes out the season with back-to-back home games, however, hosting Fargo South on Saturday, Feb. 4, before welcoming Jamestown to West Fargo for the season finale on Saturday, Feb. 11. All games are at 7:30 p.m.

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