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Boys Hockey: Lakers reel off 3 straight victories

It didn't take long for Detroit Lakes freshman goalie Mackenzie Steele to fit in on the varsity team.

Just a year ago, Steele was the starting Laker Bantam goalie, but instead of taking the normal progression up to varsity, he skipped a few steps.

Now, Steele and his Laker teammates are in the midst of a three-game winning streak, the latest being a 3-1 road victory against Prairie Centre Thursday.

Steele finished saving 21 of 22 shots, while the Lakers won the battle for the puck by outshooting Prairie Centre 31-22.

The first win of Steele's varsity career came in a 49-save effort against rivals Fergus Falls, and he continued to shine in a win against Northern Lakes.

But DL head coach Chris Denardo credits Steele's first two games as being the ones which set the tone for his freshman goalie.

"Those were big for him, it kind of ingrained the varsity game into him early on," Denardo said. "He played a good game against Grafton (in which DL lost) and then after his showing against Fergus Falls, his confidence rose.

"He felt liked he belonged."

The Lakers fell down early to Prairie Centre, with Sean Colton finding a space between Steele and the net 4:50 into the game, but first-line forward Austin Rusness answered 11:41 into the first period with assists from Derick Brehm and Alex Mason, who now has seven on the season.

After a scoreless second period, the Lakers notched a pair of special teams goals in the third, with forward Connor Collins scoring the go-ahead goal on a power play series, while senior defenseman Ethan Brekke tallied the shorthanded insurance goal with: 59 left in the game.

"We dominated the entire game, but we just were not putting the pucks in the net," Denardo said. "They had some solid goaltending (by Clay Deters), but we were not in any fear of losing the game."

Prairie Centre had two power plays go for naught in the third period, where they picked up the majority of their eight shots on net.

"Prairie Centre boxed up well in front of the net, so we had to shoot through four or five guys to get to the net," Denardo said. "So we needed to get off quick attacks on them."

For Steele and the Lakers, who are both 3-2 on the season, confidence is brewing with each win.

Steele has 141 saves on 157 shots on goal in the five games for a solid .898 save percentage, and it's being noticed by his elder teammates.

"The number one thing for Mackenzie is to stay focused through the good and bad," Denardo said. "He has gotten stronger after goals he has given up and that is a good sign. He also has the confidence of his teammates."

The first line has been DL's most reliable scoring group, with Mason attracting lots of attention. That has opened up some ice for his linemates, with Rusness leading the way with five goals.

"Austin is putting the puck in the net and defenders are finding out that Alex is a big, strong kid who can take a lot of pounding," Denardo said. "We are hoping by Christmas we are clicking on all cylinders, so any wins for this group now, is good."

The Lakers will travel to Park Rapids (0-2) Tuesday for a Mid-State Conference showdown, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Laker results

Detroit Lakes at Prairie Centre (Long Prairie), Thursday, Dec. 8.

Lakers 1 0 2 - 3

Prairie Centre 1 0 0 - 1

1st Period -- Scoring: PrCNTR - Colton Goal (Perry, Mettenburg) 4:50. DTRTLK - Rusness Goal (Brehm, Mason) 11:41. Penalties: None

2nd Period -- Scoring: None Penalties: None

3rd Period -- Scoring: DTRTLK - Collins Goal (PP) (Mason) 8:35. DTRTLK - Brekke Goal (SH) 16:01. Penalties: Schulzetenberg, PrCNTR (Tripping, Minor, 2 min) 7:10. Rusness, DTRTLK (High-Sticking, Minor, 2 min) 7:29. Bartkowicz, PrCNTR (Delay of Game, Minor, 2 min) 8:08. Herrmann, DTRTLK (Interference, Major, 5 min) 9:28. Mason, DTRTLK (Interference, Minor, 2 min) 14:46.

Shots on goal - DL 12 8 11 - 31...PC: 7 7 8 - 22.

Saves - DL (MacKenzie Steele) 21...PC (Clay Deters) 28.