Rugby skates to third
It was a bittersweet ending for Rugby at the North Dakota Junior Gold state hockey tournament.
Bitter because the Ice Hawks fell a goal shy of reaching the program’s first-ever state championship game, falling 2-1 in the semifinals to the eventual champion Fargo Flyers.
Sweet in the fact the team rebounded from that tough loss, drubbing Langdon-Park River 6-1 in the third place game.
The program equaled its best finish at the tournament, accomplished two other times – 1998 and 1999. And the team’s overall record of 18-10-3 was just the second time the program has ended above 500. The first occurred in 1998.
“I was really proud of the effort by our team throughout the tournament,” said Rugby coach Jay McClintock Jr. “We received good play out of everyone. Everyone accepted their roles.”
The tournament was hosted by the Fargo Flames but played in Moorhead, Minn. Top-seeded Fargo Flyers defeated No. 2 Mayville-Portland 9-1 in the title game, giving the program its first junior gold state title.
Rugby 6, Richland 4
Fourth-seeded Rugby had reason to be wary of its quarterfinal opponent No. 5 Richland (Sidney, Mont.) on March 6.
The teams had met three previous times, all three extending into overtime. The Ice Hawks did have the only win, though. The other two games ended in ties.
Nevertheless, Rugby knew the Rangers believed they had a strong chance of getting the win.
“We knew it was important to start well. We did that, and we got that all-important first goal,” McClintock said.
Rugby led 1-0 after 20 minutes and extended its lead to two, but that began a wild scoring barrage. Richland would cut the deficit to 2-1; Rugby would regain its two-goal lead; and then the Rangers scored two straight to tie it at 3. “A few times this season we had two-goal leads slip away,” McClintock said. “I thought we didn’t panic when they tied it.”
The Ice Hawks took a 4-3 lead heading into the final period and then received a big boost in the opening minute when senior Chris Fedje scored to again give Rugby a two-goal lead. “You could see that goal took a little life out of them,” McClintock said. “Their shoulders slumped a bit, and they were struggling to get some momentum.”
Rugby added another goal before the Rangers closed out the scoring.
“We didn’t give them a lot of great scoring chances, especially in the first and third periods,” McClintock said.
Senior Derek Jaeger and freshman Kyle Volk each scored twice. Fedje and Jordon Kuhnhenn also scored. Senior netminder Andy Brossart was busy, stopping 44 shots.
Fargo 2, Rugby 1
Rugby, which hasn’t played in a semifinal game in a decade, didn’t show any jitters against the Flyers.
“Our strategy was to keep it simple, chip the puck out and dump it in, and take advantage of our scoring chances,” McClintock said. “We just couldn’t’ get into a run-and-gun game with them. They have too much depth on offense.”
Rugby did well to keep Fargo’s scoring chances to a minimum and gave up just one goal through two and half periods. The Ice Hawks had a great opportunity to score early on a 5-on-3 man advantage, but couldn’t get the puck past the Fargo goalie Lucas Demarais. With just under seven minutes remaining, however, the Ice Hawks did finally solve Demarais. Senior forward Cody Perbix slipped a shot past the Fargo goalie between the circles. “It was a nice effort by Cody to get in a shooting position with the puck,” McClintock said.
Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. Fargo scored the game-winning goal on the next shift for a 2-1 lead.
That goal came after a puck deflected off of a Rugby player in front and ended up on the stick of a Fargo forward, who snapped it past goalie Andy Brossart, who had no chance on the play. Brossart stopped 35 of 37 Flyer shots.
“That goal deflated us,” McClintock said. “We just scored and had all the momentum it seemed, and then that happened.”
Rugby managed to get its goalie out for a sixth skater in the final moments but couldn’t get any quality scoring chances, McClintock admitted.
The Ice Hawks were forced to play the last half of the game without their top scorer – Derek Jaeger – who was ejected along with a Fargo player for fisticuffs. However, the game misconduct penalty was wiped clean following the game by tournament officials, and Jaeger was able to suit up for the next game.
McClintock said Jaeger’s absence forced the team to juggle its forward lines and obviously affected the team.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but our play sagged a bit after he was taken out of the game,” McClintock said. “But our players did a good job still sticking with our game plan.”
No team played the Flyers closer than the Ice Hawks, who finished with a 1-3 record against them, and three of those games were decided by a goal.
“Some coaches and fans came up to us and said that semifinal (against Fargo) was the state championship. The game was exciting and we hung with them.”
It was a quiet Rugby locker room following the loss. “Our guys were certainly dejected. They played their hearts out,” he said.
Rugby 6, Langdon-PR 1
It would have been easy to come out lifeless against Langdon-Park River in the third place game, following that emotionally-draining 2-1 loss to Fargo.
However, Rugby wanted to end the season on a high note, and it did just that, scoring two first period goals en route to a 6-1 win over the Warriors on March 8.
“I think with the exception of a five-minute stretch in the second period, we pretty much controlled the play,” McClintock said.
The Warriors did score to cut the Ice Hawks lead to 2-1 in the middle frame, but Rugby would add four more goals.
The victory decided the season series between the teams, which was one win apiece heading into the game. “We didn’t think we played well in our loss to them, and we wanted to show we were the better team,” he said.
Jaeger and Leo Hoffert each scored twice in the game. Leif Selland and Kyle Volk also scored for the Ice Hawks.
Notes: Rugby senior forward Derek Jaeger and junior defenseman Aaron Teigen were named to the all-state team…A team from Fargo has won four out of the past five state tournaments…Next year’s state tournament will be held in Grand Forks.
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