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Red River hockey returns to state title game for fifth-straight year with 5-3 win over Fargo South/Shanley

Feb. 23—FARGO — Late in the third period, Grand Forks Red River's Keegan Buckley passed the puck out to defenseman Mason Ray, who was near the blue line during Friday's North Dakota state semifinal game against Fargo South/Shanley at Scheels Arena.

Ray needed to go for a line change, so he rifled the puck toward the net and turned to skate off the ice.

The puck rattled into the net, past Bruins goaltender Landon Walter.

Ray didn't realize he had scored until teammates raised their arms in celebration.

"Everyone started screaming," he said, "so I turned around and realized it was in the net."

Ray's goal gave Red River a two-goal lead, 5-3, with 2 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the semifinal. That would remain the final score as the Roughriders punched their ticket to the state championship game for the fifth year in a row.

"Even though we were doing a decent job, all it takes is one shot, one bounce, and all the sudden it's a tie game," Red River coach Tim Skarperud said. "Definitely a huge goal."

Red River had a 3-1 lead after the first period but took three penalties in the second. Fargo South/Shanley's Landon Meier and Andrew Kankelfritz scored two power-play goals in the period, tying the game at 3.

"The second period, to be honest, were dumb situations," Skarperud said. "Three penalties that were not good penalties and put us in a hole and got them back in the game."

The Riders were able to respond. Buckley answered with a goal from Griffen Haagenson before the second ended. Red River took a 4-3 lead into the final period.

Rylan Bydal, Haagenson and Buckley each had a goal and an assist for Red River in the win. Goaltender Tucker Hager finished with 22 saves.

South/Shanley's Zach Skarperud and Sam Ovsak led the Bruins with two points each. Walter ended with 30 saves for South/Shanley, which dropped to 13-13.

Bruins coach Matt Hansen felt his team couldn't do anything more than they did in the game.

"We came so far this year from the start of the season until now," Hansen said. "Once we got rolling, I thought we were a very dangerous team, and a team that hopefully others wouldn't want to play in the playoffs. We had a great run getting to this spot, having an opportunity to play for the title tomorrow night.

"That's how hockey goes sometimes. You don't get the breaks. You don't always come out on top. Super proud of our group. We couldn't have asked them to do more."

Red River will face Grand Forks Central in the title game Saturday with the goal of raising its third state title trophy in five years.

It will be the first all-Grand Forks state championship since 2021, when Central beat Red River 3-2. The Riders are looking forward to another game against their rival.

"We're looking to have our best game of the year tomorrow," Skarperud said, "and have a lot of fun with it."