The Minot High School boys hockey team got a surprise earlier this season when it was announced that the West Region tournament had been moved from Bismarck to All Seasons Arena - a short drive from Maysa Arena where the Magicians play their home games.
Not that the Magicians needed another reason to compete for the region tournament championship, but playing in their backyard in front of their home fans won't hurt.
"It means a lot either way, but it's nice to have it here at home," senior defenseman and team captain Morgen Martelle said. "It would be cool to win it on our own turf and get the trophy on our own turf."
Minot High’s Morgen Martelle, left, and Bottineau-Rugby’s Luke Amsbaugh battle for a loose puck during a game earlier this season at Maysa Arena.
Martelle is third - first among defensemen - on the team in scoring with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists).
Minot (13-7-1 overall, 11-3 region) earned the No. 2 seed and plays seventh-seeded Dickinson in the first round today at 5 p.m. The Magicians swept the Midgets (8-13, 5-11-1) this season, including a 2-1 victory less than a week ago playing with a mostly-JV squad.
"We didn't take much out of the last game," MHS coach Chad Burckhard said. "We know we have to show up and play a full 51 minutes. It's a pretty wide-open tournament. All eight teams have a chance to advance to the state tournament."
The Magicians have qualified for state the last two seasons and appeared in the region championship in 2011, losing to Bismarck Century.
Minot enters Thursday's matchup having won seven of its last eight games against region opponents. Among those victories was a convincing home sweep of Bismarck High and Bismarck Century in mid-January. The Magicians handled No. 1 seed Century 6-2 before beating No. 3 seed Bismarck 5-1. Martelle said those games were a defining moment for the team.
"We figured out how good we actually were and, if we play as a team and play our systems right, who we can actually beat," Martelle said.
Martelle and Burckhard agreed that the tournament is up for grabs and there is no clear-cut favorite to hoist the region trophy come Saturday.
"We have to take care of our own business," Burckhard said. "It's next to impossible to predict who you're going to play in the next round."
The Magicians' keys to success have been balanced scoring and consistent goaltending by sophomore Breydan Effertz. Minot's goaltender is 12-6-2 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Eight skaters finished the regular season with at least 11 points, led by junior forward Quinn Fuchs with 40 (6 g, 34 a).
"We're not a flashy team," Martelle said. "We don't have the guys that score a ton of goals. The biggest thing is we're going to be a hard-working team and that's what we've been."
On the opposite end of the bracket is No. 4 seed and rival Bottineau-Rugby (14-5-1, 10-4-1), which enters the tournament having lost its last four games. The Braves play No. 5 seed Jamestown in their first-round game at 1:30 p.m. The teams split their two regular-season contests.
"It's two teams that are pretty evenly matched," B-R coach David Hoff said. "It should be a good game. It's been up and down both games. Jamestown is built the same way we are. They have some awfully good players. Neither one of us is deep in scoring."
B-R's top four point scorers account for 76 percent of the team's offense. Junior forward Harrison Aide leads the Braves - and the state - in scoring with 80 points (30 g, 50 a). Cody Longie (24 g, 35 a) and Luke Amsbaugh (24 g, 27 a) are second and fourth, respectively, in the state.
"I like what we've done," Hoff said. "Right now we're focused on Jamestown. You have to play who's on the schedule."