Firebirds hope to overcome recent struggles in tournament
By Chuck Wickenhofer
The Devils Lake boys hockey team enters the East Region Tournament with an 8-13 record while on a three game losing streak. The Firebirds also lost to Fargo North last Thursday, a team that had failed to win a game all season up to that point. Clearly, the team is struggling.
Recent injuries have certainly adversely affected the team's performance, but last year the Firebirds were the sixth seed going in to the regional tournament and ended up advancing to the state tournament. To have a chance, the Firebirds will have to solve the puzzle that is Grand Forks Central, who outscored them 11-0 in two games this season.
The Firebirds started strong with a three game winning streak, sitting at 6-4 going into the new year. However, a five game slide, including an overtime loss to 17-3-1 West Fargo, disrupted their momentum and led to a sixth seed in the regionals for the second straight season.
One of the issues for the Firebirds was consistency. The same team that dropped their final game to a winless Fargo North team also took that 17-3-1 West Fargo Packers team to overtime twice, losing 3-2 in both games.
Junior defenseman Matthew Boren leads the Firebirds in points with 24, while senior forward Cooper Knoke is the team's leading scorer with 13 goals. Junior forward Ryyan Reule has logged 10 goals and 11 assists, and senior forward Landyn Swenson has pitched in 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists.
The Firebirds will be leaning heavily on their top scorers to mount an attack against Grand Forks Central, who they have yet to score against this season. However, junior goalie Wyatt Ness will likely be relied on just as heavily in order to keep the game close. Ness comes into the tournament with a 90.9 save percentage, saving 640 of 704 shots on net for a 2.98 goals against average.
Ness has given up four goals or fewer in his last five games, three of which were matchups against Minot, Grand Forks Central and West Fargo, the most powerful squads in the state.
The Firebirds will need to turn things around quickly in Tuesday's match against Grand Forks Central and hope that their top players can get hot at the right time. If last year's tournament result is any indication, they have an opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle and perhaps advance to state.