Grand Forks Central vs. Red River Hockey. Russell Hons Photography
Only five high schools — down from the usual eight — participated in the annual Jason Stadstad Hockey Classic last month in Grand Forks.
Because of that, the two Grand Forks teams — Central and Red River — played only two games each to allow the visiting Bismarck High and Bismarck Century teams three games each. (Fargo Davies also only played two games.)
And that has led to speculation in some corners that the tournament will be discontinued. Adding fuel to that thought is the playing of the nonconference Stadstad Game this past weekend between Central and Red River, which the Roughriders won 6-3.
The once-popular holiday tournament was started in 2007 to honor Stadstad, a former Grand Forks Central hockey player who was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. After courageously battling the disease, Stadstad died at age 19 in December 2006.
The idea behind the Classic was noble indeed — to raise money to support youth hockey in Grand Forks as well as making a donation to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
From 2007 through 2011, the tournament was held at both Ralph Engelstad Arena and Purpur Arena. Those early years, top-ranked Minnesota teams were among those that competed in the tournament. Roseau, Warroad, Apple Valley and Bloomington Jefferson were just a few.
And several players who participated have made their names well-known in college and professional circles.
The University of North Dakota men’s hockey roster boasts three former Central players — Paul LaDue, Luke Johnson and Johnny Simonson — who played in the Classic.
Add to that list Hudson Fasching of Apple Valley, Aaron Ness of Roseau and Nick Bjugstad of Blaine. Fasching is a member of the University of Minnesota hockey team, a draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres and a two-time member of the U.S. World Junior team. Ness played at the University of Minnesota and currently is one of the top players on the New York Islanders’ American Hockey League team. And Bjugstad, also a U of M grad, leads the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers in scoring this year.
The demise of the tournament started in 2012, when organizers abandoned the Ralph, citing the rental cost. And in 2014, the Grand Forks Herald, the tournament’s original sponsor, pulled out.
One of the allures of competing in the tournament was the chance to play in the Ralph. With that gone, it has been hard for organizers to attract quality competition. That is one of the reasons East Grand Forks Senior High decided to go elsewhere over the holidays the past two years.
But there appears to be hope of reviving the Classic, according to Central coach Grant Paranica, who would like to see it continue. Paranica said there has been talk of getting the tournament back on track by securing a new sponsor, possibly BNSF, beefing up the competition and having the championship game played at the Ralph.
“And having Red River in one bracket and Central in the other,” Paranica added.
Beefing up the competition would go a long way according to Red River coach Bill Chase. But he isn’t averse to dropping the tournament if his team can meet the likes of a Roseau and or Warroad in a holiday tournament. “Or some good Minneapolis teams,” he added.
Whatever the outcome, the Classic has had a fine run. But there’s no doubt some things will have to change if it’s to continue. Central and Red River deserve better.