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Central hockey, behind reliable goalie Jaxon Washburn, rolls to state title game with 5-0 win over Minot

Feb. 23—FARGO — Grand Forks Central goaltender Jaxon Washburn felt under the weather Friday.

His game didn't show it.

Washburn stopped all 31 of Minot's shots in Central's 5-0 North Dakota state boys hockey tournament semifinal win at Scheels Arena to set up the first all-Grand Forks state championship game since 2021, when Central beat Red River 3-2.

"I battled through it, and my team helped in front of me," Washburn said.

He starts his warmups early to settle in. He visualizes the game in front of him to calm himself so he stays relaxed in the net.

That has helped him have a stellar first two rounds of the state tournament, tallying a total of 50 saves. But the play in front of him has been dominant, too.

"He's given us a chance to win all the time," Central coach Grant Paranica said. "He's been really reliable back there for us."

The Knights' offense has 12 goals in the tournament, and the scoring is spread across all four lines. On Friday, it was Donovan Balek and Cooper Deziel who came up with two goals each in the win.

"Our offense is buzzing right now, obviously," Washburn said. "Every line, even the fourth line, is going. Our defensive pairs are doing great back there, helping everybody out. Everybody's just doing a great job."

The deciding factor, to Paranica, was the three-goal second period. Deziel scored and, one minute later, Balek found the back of the net for his second score. Gavin Wockenfuss scored off the draw following Balek's goal.

"You could feel the momentum turn a little bit for us," Paranica said. "Getting those three quick goals and getting some breathing room. The rest was just trying to manage the game properly."

Wockenfuss also ended with two points in the win — a goal and an assist on Balek's second goal. Mack Blue and Evan Panzer, who dominated in Central's 7-0 quarterfinal win over Bismarck Legacy, each had an assist in Friday's win.

Central will need every player going in Saturday's state title game against Red River. It will be the team's fourth matchup this season.

Central beat Red River 2-1 to win the East Region title last Saturday. The last time the Knights saw the Roughriders in the state championship game was Feb. 27, 2021, when Central used a 3-2 win to beat Red River.

That was the final time Central played in the state tournament until this weekend.

"They deserve to be where they're at," Paranica said, "and I think we've earned our way there as well. We're both two good hockey teams, and we have our work cut out for us, for sure."