Mar. 31—ST. PAUL — East Grand Forks looked every bit the powerhouse in the opening round of state.
Led by a hat trick from sophomore and University of North Dakota recruit Jaksen Panzer, the third-seeded Green Wave knocked out unseeded Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato in the Class A quarterfinals, 8-1, at the Xcel Energy Center.
"They jumped out right away and I don't know if we were awestruck about the big lights and the big stage, but we were not as ready as we hoped when the puck dropped," said Dragons head coach Brice Berggren. "We had some plays we normally don't make. Props to East Grand Forks; their speed and their pressure made it tough on us."
The much-ballyhooed state tournament had a subdued atmosphere in Tuesday's opening round. Due to COVID-19 precautions, only 250 people were allowed in the building with no tickets available to the general public. The fans in attendance were scattered around the lower bowl while tarps were placed across the stands to keep bystanders from sitting close to the action.
"We kind of expected it coming in," Litchfield/D-C sophomore forward Caden Besemer said of the atmosphere. "It was still nice to play on that ice even without the fans. ... I was just astonished by everything. It was a nice surface to play on and everything was top of the line."
Besemer added: "You miss out on the experience a little bit with all the other stuff that goes on in a typical state tournament. They knew that and still, once you walk into the X, there's no hiding the excitement. Even though there's not the big roar of the fans this year, you could feel the excitement in the boys."
On the ice, sixth-ranked East Grand Forks looked right at home in its 13th state tournament. The Green Wave got onto the board 25 seconds into the game when Landon Parker redirected a shot by teammate Logan Spencer past Dragons goaltender Darby Halonen. Just under three minutes later, East Grand Forks added another goal as Zach Stocker stole the puck in front of the net and scored off the takeaway. Parker added one more goal in the first with a wrist shot in the slot off a perfect pass from Brody Schultz.
The second period belonged to the Green Wave as well as Schultz and Panzer scored back-to-back goals in a 40-second span.
While both teams failed to convert on the power-play, Panzer showed his scoring touch while the Green Wave were a man down with short-handed goals in the second and third.
"They have a few guys that definitely can skate," Berggren said, "and you give them time and space, they can bury the puck. They were fast and played a great game."
Down 6-0, Besemer stuck with the puck and gained positive results. After a Ryan Schutz shot bounced off East Grand Forks goalie Cole Quirk, Besemer was there to bury the rebound, getting the puck over Quirk's kick pad for the Dragons' lone goal. Jack Hillman was also credited with an assist on the play.
"The energy went up by a lot for the rest of the second period," Besemer said. "That was a good way to get us going and get us out of our slump."
The Green Wave's offense controlled the game, outshooting the Dragons 51-9. Darby Halonen made 39 saves on 46 shots. Travis Halonen made four saves on five shots in the third period. Quirk made eight saves for East Grand Forks.
The Green Wave face No. 2 seed Gentry Academy in the state semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday back at the Xcel Energy Center. The Stars won their opening-round game against unseeded Northern Lakes, 8-0.
East Grand Forks is looking to make the finals for the first time since winning the Class A championship back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.
Reaching state for the fifth time in program history, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato concludes the 2021 season with a record of 10-9-2.
Class A quarterfinals
East Grand Forks 8,
Litchfield/D-C (10-9-2) 0 1 0 — 1
East Grand Forks (14-8-0) 3 3 2 — 8
FIRST PERIOD — (1) EGF: Landon Parker (Logan Spencer, Brandon Anderson), 0:25 ... (2) EGF: Zach Stocker (Jaksen Panzer), 3:17 ... (3) EGF: Parker (Brody Schultz, Tanner Lubinski), 12:58.
SECOND PERIOD — (4) EGF: Schultz (Lubinski, Parker), 2:42 ... (5) EGF: Panzer (Anderson), 3:22 ... (6) EGF: Panzer (Anderson, Spencer), 11:08 SH ... (7) LDC: Caden Besemer (Ryan Schutz, Jack Hillman), 13:38.
THIRD PERIOD — (8) EGF: Panzer (unassisted), 5:31 SH ... (9) EGF: Schultz (unassisted), 12:27.
GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS — Litchfield/D-C: Darby Halonen 39/46; Travis Halonen 4/5 ... East Grand Forks: Cole Quirk 8/9; Chase Mero 0/0.
State Boys Hockey
(at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul)
Gentry Academy 8, Northern Lakes 0
East Grand Forks 8, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 1
Dodge County 7, Hermantown 3
Little Falls 2, Delano 1
2-Gentry Academy (17-0-0) vs. 3-East Grand Forks (14-8-0), 11 a.m.
Dodge County (18-3-1) vs. 4-Little Falls (14-4-1), 1 p.m.
TBD, 6 p.m.
Wayzata 1, Hill-Murray 0 (forfeit)
Lakeville South 4, Moorhead 2
1-Eden Prairie (18-1-2) vs. St. Thomas Academy (13-4-3), late
4-Maple Grove (20-1-0) vs. 5-Andover (18-2-1), late
Wayzata (14-5-2) vs. 3-Lakeville South 19-0-2), 6 p.m.
Eden Prairie/St. Thomas winner vs. Maple Grove/Andover winner; 8 p.m.
TBD, 8 p.m.
How to watch: Broadcast on 45TV; streamed on www.prep45.com. Tickets not available to the general public