The American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Hockey Team for the 2017-18 season was selected based on performance, level of competition and strength of schedule.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy
Name: Grant Paranica
School: Grand Forks Central (Grand Forks, N.D.)
When Grant Paranica took over as the head coach of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Central boys hockey team in 2014, there was a simple mandate: return the Knights to their former glory.
GFC is the most prolific program in the state’s rich history. North Dakota started a high school state tournament in 1959, and Central won it every year until 1974. They kept it up—if not quite that proficiently—with 24 titles by 2004. But the well dried up. Following back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004, the Knights claimed just one title in the next nine seasons, and the bottom dropped out in 2013 with the team posting a final record of 7-16-1.
Enter Paranica, a native of Saskatchewan, who won a national title with the University of North Dakota in 1987. The Knights averaged 20 wins their first three seasons with Paranica behind the bench before a senior-laden squad returned GFC to the promised land with a perfect 27-0 season in 2017.
Despite losing seven of its top nine scorers and its top four defensemen to graduation, the good times did not stop rolling this past winter. Behind a precocious group of juniors and sophomores, the Knights dominated the North Dakota ice hockey scene again in 2018, capping a 24-1-2 season with a second straight state championship. Those results earned Paranica, 53, the title of 2018 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Coach of the Year.
“I knew we had some talented players returning, but we had lost about 70 percent of our scoring from the previous season,” Paranica said. “I thought we would have to gain a lot of experience through the year, maybe give up some goals while we learned … but I suspected we may be a year away from competing for a state championship.”
These new Knights proved to be quick learners. They out-scored their opponents, 130-28, on the season, giving up a whisker more than one goal per game behind the sensational net-minding of junior Kaleb Johnson, an ALL-USA Third Team All-American. But the team really hit its stride after a 5-1 loss to East Grand Forks (Minn.) on Jan. 2. In its final 17 games, GFC allowed just 11 goals, including a pair of postseason shutouts. They put an exclamation point on their season with a 4-2 win over Bismarck (N.D.) Century in the title game.
Offensively, Central showed a lot of balance with 10 players scoring at least 20 points. Only two of those top 10 scorers were seniors, including Zach Murphy, who led the team with 17 goals. Junior forward Lucas Kanta led the team in points with 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points. Murphy, Kanta and junior defenseman Brandon Holt were All-State selections.
With so much talent coming back next year, this might be the start of yet another dynastic run for the Knights.
“Our kids work really hard,” Paranica told Around the Rink with Travis Dunn on the eve of the state title game. “They put in the time and they put in the effort. They love hockey, and there’s a passion there. The credit goes to them.”
ONE YEAR AGO: Who made the ALL-USA Team last season?