The Devils Lake boys hockey team took advantage of its opportunity to have a playoff game on its own ice.
By Harry Lipsiea
Anyone who believes there is no such thing as home field advantage has never been to Burdick Arena for a home playoff game. In addition to not having to travel and playing in a familiar setting, there was extra motivation for the Devils Lake boys hockey team to earn a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday evening.
The Firebird faithful, including tremendous support from the student section and community, are unlike any in the state, third-year head coach Jens Stokke told the Journal.
"We always want to play here. This crowd, this arena has been nothing but good to us this season," he stated.
The home crowd had plenty to celebrate Tuesday evening as its squad skated to a 3-0 triumph over Fargo South-Shanley.
Stokke was quick to point out that the crowd was a huge factor for the Firebirds. Ultimately, Tuesday evening featured a jam-packed student section with few open seats throughout the arena. The head coach thanked Devils Athletic Director Jason Wiberg along with the boys and girls basketball programs for moving home games originally scheduled for Tuesday evening at home to last Saturday
"That was absolutely huge for us to get that crowd going. We thank the administration and basketball programs for doing that," Stokke added. "We knew we were going to have that extra advantage in our favor. Our crowd definitely didn't disappoint tonight. The guys absolutely love playing here."
Devils Lake controlled the action much of the evening. However, it was a competitive game until a late surge by the home team. Two late goals by the Firebirds, one by Tommy Reslock and an empty-netter from Ryyan Reule, in the final minutes helped the team wrap up the playoff triumph against the Bruins.
"That second goal was absolutely huge. They (Fargo South-Sanley) was on our heels all night and that was kind of a nail in the coffin," Stokke added. "And then Tommy and Ryyan were able to get that shorty to give us a three-goal lead. Both of those guys worked their tails off all night, so that last goal was really well deserved."
Another component of the win that has to stand out is the final score; 3-0. For the seventh time this season, the Devils Lake defense and senior goaltender Wyatt Ness have not allowed a goal on the night.
It's a pretty rare feat for a team and its goaltender to collect seven shutouts in one season. It's truly the credit to Ness and an experienced core of defensemen, Stokke stated.
"I have said all season long I think our defense and goaltending is right there among the best in the state," he said. "Tonight was no different. Defensively, we were pretty solid again. There weren't many mistakes made from the blue line back tonight."
The first period featured no scoring. Devils Lake came close several times to getting on the board while the Bruins battled to get shot on goal attempts off.
"Offensively, I thought we were waiting for the puck to come to us a bit much in that first period," the coach said. "When we are at our best, we are working hard and flying around with a solid forecheck. We struggled with that early on."
Reslock, with an assist by senior Matthew Boren, got the Firebirds on the scoreboard 30 seconds into the second period. Devils Lake led 1-0 going into the third and final stanza.
At 14:59 of the third, Reslock found the net again with Carson Lovin and Reule adding assists. The Firebirds put an exclamation point on the game as Reule, assisted by Reslock and Boren, scored an open-net goal to give the team a 3-0 victory. Ness finished with 24 saves. In the end, the Firebirds outshot the Bruins 33-24.
With the first-round victory, the Firebirds advance to the EDC semifinals Friday evening against Grand Forks Central. The puck is set to drop at 6 p.m. at Purpur Arena in Grand Forks.
The No. 1 Knights are unbeaten at 22-0 on the season and feature a high-powered offense. It will be quite the challenge for Devils Lake. But, the Firebirds have given the highly-regard team its toughest game of the season. Grand Forks Central earned a hard-fought 3-2 win at Burdick arena. The Knights used a late surge to beat the Firebirds 7-0 at home.
"They are the top team for a reason. Grand Forks Central is very explosive. We are going to have to keep their shots on the outside," Stokke said. "It will be a tough game, but I know that our guys are ready for the challenge. That game here against Central proved a lot about themselves."
Devils Lake hopes to have a strong fan presence at the Purpur Friday evening. Stokke expects that the Firebirds will have plenty of support.
"Our fanbase is awesome. The crowds have been amazing all season long," the coach said. "What a great student body and community we have