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West Fargo celebrates its 2-1 state tournament qualifying win over Grand Forks Red River on Saturday at the Urban Plains Center. Submitted Photo.

West Fargo boys hockey team earns state berth by beating Red River

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On Feb. 22, 1980, the "Miracle on Ice" occurred when the United State men's hockey team accomplished the unimaginable by defeating the Soviet Union.

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Nearly 30 years ago to the day, on Saturday, Feb. 20, the West Fargo boys hockey team earned a North Dakota state tournament berth by accomplishing its own "miracle," beating Grand Forks Red River for the first time - ever.

The 2-1 East Region tournament win also kept the Roughriders out of the state tournament for the first time, and solidified what Packers co-coach Tim Capouch has known all along: his team can compete with the best in the state.

"Everybody worked hard," he said. "We had a few things we needed to do, and everyone executed, from the third line all the way up to the first line."

So maybe this was no miracle, just the Packers doing what they do best: working their tails off.

During the regular season, the Roughriders met West Fargo twice, winning 7-3 on Dec. 12, and tying 5-5 on Jan. 21. With such a lopsided history between the two teams, ending the Roughriders' chance at another state tournament berth was the Packers' plan all along, Capouch said.

"We set a couple goals: not to give up a goal in the first five minutes ... and not to get overworked by them."

The Packers met both criteria, but to do so they had to tame a beast: Jake LaDouceur, Red River's No. 1 points leader with 19 goals and 31 assists on the season. After effectively shutting down the Roughrider offense, the first period ended scoreless.

It took a little more than three minutes of the second period for the Packers to get on the board. They received back-to-back goals from their two most powerful offensive weapons: senior Dusty Jonasson and junior Jeremy Johnson. The goals were less than one minute apart and increased the players' season points totals to 35 apiece.

Red River defenseman Jon Lizotte scored with less than three minutes left in the period, but that's as close as the Riders would get.

For their efforts, two Packers were honored on the All-EDC team: Dusty Jonasson and Derek Sand.

To meet the Roughriders in the state-qualifying game, the Packers lost to Grafton-Park River 4-3 on Thursday, Feb. 18, and defeated Fargo Shanley 8-2 on Friday.

Since switching up their lines in January, the Packers have seen a noticeable jump in offense. Part of the switch was paring the Jonassons, both Conor and Dusty, with Johnson. Since then, the Packers have hit their stride, only losing twice in their last 10 games.

"Ever since we made the line adjustment, we've been scoring more goals," Capouch said. "We've done a lot of good things all season."

During the East Region tournament, West Fargo also continued its trend of switching up goalies Cameron Holland and Josh Hanson as needed, something Capouch said isn't going to change at state.

"Every game is different," he said. "We don't know who's going to be in net until game time."

The state tournament begins Thursday at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, and at noon, No. 4 West Fargo faces Bismarck, the West Region No. 1 seed at 16-7-1 overall.

The Packers (8-5-2 EDC, 15-6-3) already faced the Demons earlier this season, beating them 2-1 in overtime. Capouch said the game plan against them will be the same as it was against the Roughriders: grind it out.

"We have to show up and can't get outworked," he said.

Capouch said it definitely helped to play close to home during the East Region tournament, and the energy from the fans kept his team going.

"I think it's great when you don't have to play an evening game and get back on the bus afterward," he said. "It helps when you can stay in your own house."

It is a luxury the Packers will not have at state. But home ice aside, the fact remains: West Fargo is not going down without a fight.

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