Lakers boys' hockey brings potent first line to the table
When Perham senior Alex Phelps decided to join the Detroit Lakes boys' hockey team as a seventh grader, he immediately found a friend and linemate in sixth-grader Tanner Lane.
Fortunately for the Laker duo -- and the DL boys' hockey team -- this relationship has blossomed into one of the most formidable scoring duos in the state.
Currently, Lane leads Class 1A in scoring with 38 goals, 31 assists for 69 points and a plus-46, while Phelps is rated as the state's 10th leading scorer with 16 goals, 33 assists for 49 points and a plus-41.
Due to the fact that Perham doesn't have a high school varsity hockey program, Phelps was able to join the Lakers through a co-op the two districts formed.
Lane, who was an up-and-comer through the ranks of the DL Youth Hockey program, found what every elite player needs -- a wingman.
"We hit it off right away," Phelps said of his and Lane's relationship.
"He's been my wingman, my role model through the years," Lane said. "Alex is one of the fastest players on the ice."
The two have fed off each other in the form of assists and goals, with this season being a breakout year for both of them as a double-scoring threat.
Already, both have eclipsed their numbers from last year, when Lane totaled 26 goals and 26 assists for a plus-nine, while Phelps scored 12 goals and had 21 assists for a plus-six.
Both have seen a big difference in each other's games and that has only benefited a Laker squad which is currently 12-4-2 on the season and a legit contender for the Section 6-1A title.
Phelps' and Lane's respective progressions as offensive juggernauts came with more confidence and added versatility on the ice, said DL head coach Chris Denardo.
"Tanner's game changed when I was able to get him to start moving the puck more, instead of just rushing down the ice with four or five guys on him," Denardo said. "He moves the puck better. Tanner is unique for his size, speed and skill set."
Lane came up through the ranks well-known after dominating in the younger divisions, while Phelps was more of a role player.
But that changed this year for Phelps.
"Last year, I would move the puck in the opponents' zone and just look for Tanner," Phelps said of the change from last year to this season. "This year, I will take the shot myself when I get the chance."
And that threat of Phelps being a top scorer has only opened up Lane's game -- which is becoming more well-rounded.
During the 2008-09 season, Lane was the sole focus of defensemen, who would grab, hold and try to slow down the DL forward.
It was a frustrating aspect of the game, but now defenders have to worry about Phelps, too, thus alleviating some of the clutching on Lane.
"Last year defenses were mauling me and (his teammates) were just feeding me the puck," Lane said. "But I was a different player last year. This season, we are moving the puck so much better and everyone is getting involved."
There was no doubt Lane could find the net plenty of times, but could he become an all-around player and help feed his teammates the puck?
So far this season, the answer is a resounding "yes."
With his 31 assists, Lane is finding his teammates after the defense is gravitating toward him.
"I wanted to become more of a complete hockey player," Lane said. "I wanted to become a factor in the defensive zone and open up the ice for my teammates."
Phelps has had a front-row seat in Lane's progression from becoming just a scoring threat to becoming an all-around one.
"He has developed a lot since his freshman season," Phelps said. "He really stepped it up from last year, too, and that has been a big influence on me to improve.
"Last year, I wasn't quite on the level of Tanner, so he has been a role model for me to improve, too."
With the duo making life hell on opposing defenses, junior winger Nate Baker has also helped make DL's first line one of the best in the area and is also ranked in the top 10 in the state in scoring.
Baker has 21 goals and 19 assists on the season for a plus-43, and those numbers will only get better as defenses concentrate on Lane and Phelps more.
"Nate's speed has picked up quite a bit this year and now we are just working on his one-time shots on the backside, because he is getting a ton of them," Denardo said.
With Baker adding some smoke to an already speedy line of Phelps and Lane, there hasn't been a team yet able to match the trio's speed.
"No one has even been close," Denardo said of his first line's speed advantage.
Chemistry is also a strength, just due to the fact that Phelps and Lane each know where the other will be on the ice.
Instead of looking for a pass, they can just do it and be confident the other will be in the correct position to accept it.
"It's a read and react type of game," Lane added. "When the defense comes to you, you just give the puck up and he'll (Phelps) be there."
The stats and numbers have been nice for the DL duo, but those are just gravy.
The big goal is a state tournament berth.
"The points are not that big a deal, if it helps the team win, that's what counts," Lane said.
And a team can't do that with one line, as the Lakers other two lines are stepping up and doing their part also.
Players such as sophomore Alex Mason, junior Andy Schupp and seniors Brett Provo and Chad Maristuen -- among others -- have played their roles well.
"Everyone has accepted their roles and my expectations are being met from each line," Denardo said.
Being a complete team -- along with senior goalie Andrew Friesen and an ever-improving defense -- is much appreciated by the potent first line, as well.
"Everyone is out there grinding it out and burying the puck," Phelps said. "It's a big load off of us."
It's been a relationship which has created a strong bond between Phelps and Lane -- along with a bevy of goals and assists along the way.