Boys hockey: Blow, Detroit Lakes hangs tough with second-ranked Warroad in battle of top-10 teams
In their first game in the top 10 in the Let's Play Hockey polls, the Lakers proved they can hang around with one of the state's top teams. Despite a 3-0 loss at home against second-ranked Warroad, Detroit Lakes is starting to get the respect they feel they've been lacking all season.
There are great teams at each level in boys hockey, and then there are elite ones. On Saturday, the Detroit Lakes ran into one of them at the Kent Freeman Arena. However, the Lakers proved they could hang around with one of the favorites to win the Class A state championship.
Second-ranked Warroad (14-0-0), according to Let's Play Hockey, shutout 10th-ranked Detroit Lakes (9-4-0) despite a head-turning performance from Lakers' senior goaltender Elijah Blow. He made 34 saves and allowed two goals in what was undoubtedly his best game of the season.
"He was the best player on the ice tonight, and we needed him to be," Detroit Lakes head coach Ben Noah said of Blow. "He gave us a chance to win the game. That's all we can ask for."
It wasn't just the impressive number of saves Blow made, but also the quality. Of Warroad's 37 shots, Over 10 of them could've been considered high-danger scoring chances.
"I try to be the same every game," Blow said. "Growing up, it was always, 'just stop the next puck.' My dad was my goalie coach. He trained me all the way up through peewees and bantams. He always said, 'Stop the next puck.' But on a day like today, oh God, some things just keep going your way."
The Warriors broke the scoreless tie midway through the first period on the first of Daimon Gardner's two goals. While on the penalty kill, Ryan Lund ripped a shot off the crossbar, which landed on Gardner's tape before Blow could track the rebound.
Gardner made it 2-0 in the second period on a similar play. Carson Reed's shot was blocked by a sprawling Laker, which deflected the puck to Gardner on the short side of the goal with a yawning net in front of him. Matt Hard sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the final two minutes. Gardner's assist marked his third point of the game.
Despite a couple of unlucky bounces, the luck swung both ways. The only constant was the play of both goaltenders.
"When I'm in the zone, I try not to overthink stuff because that's when stuff starts to go wrong," Blow said. "As a goalie, you just have to keep your composure and not worry about anything that happened before the next shot comes.
Hampton Slukynsky wasn't called on often to make big saves for the Warriors, but he stopped all 14 shots to extend his shutout streak. Slukynsky hasn't given up a goal over the last three games, which spans 176:17 time on the ice.
Gardner, a senior and a Clarkson University hockey commit, is one of two players for the Warriors that have verbally agreed to play at Division I schools. Junior Jayson Shaugabay is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"There's a reason why Hermantown and Warroad are the clear-cut favorites to win a state championship," Noah said. "They're in a different tier, and it's mainly because of a couple of players that have a skill level we haven't seen."
While the Lakers' chances were few and far between, the Warriors looked frustrated at times with their lack of production. Against a team that averages over six goals per game, the Lakers found ways to keep Warroad off the scoreboard.
"I love the effort," Noah said. "I thought our guys played with as much passion and energy as they could've tonight. We didn't have things go quite our way, but that's hockey. The encouraging thing is we're going to watch film and learn a lot about our structure. We don't see teams like this. If we got to see a team like this five, six times throughout the year, it's a lot easier to get better. Warroad exposed some of our weaknesses, and we're going to figure out hope to fix them."
Noah understands that Warroad will likely be the best team his guys see this season, but they're hoping for a rematch in the Section 8A tournament. If they get another shot, they know Warroad will get similar chances to score. However, they hope to make the most of their opportunities, get high-level goaltending, limit mistakes and maybe even get a little lucky.
"That's definitely how you beat a team like this," Noah said. "That's the recipe. You're never going to outplay a team that's just this much better than you. You might out-work them, but they're going to get their chances. You might get bounces, but you have to earn your bounces. When they're that much more skilled than you, the bounces need to come in all three periods."
Detroit Lakes is now 4-2 in 8A play this season, with an overtime loss to East Grand Forks on Nov. 30 . The theme for the Lakers was about earning respect from the flag bearers around the section.
"That's something that coach talks about every day," Blow said on earning respect. "The way he puts it is, 'Championship teams don't take a day off.' He pushes us and pushes us and pushes us to be that way every single day. We, as a team, look forward to playing East Grand and Warroad. We talk about it all the time. We tell each other we're going to beat them come sections, and we have full confidence in ourselves that we can."
For the first time in at least a decade, Detroit Lakes had a boys hockey team in the top-10 in the Let's Play Hockey rankings.
"Seeing the fact that we've gotten into the top-10 in multiple different rankings, that's a great start to feeling like we've earned that respect," Noah said. "I've gotten text messages from coaches in our section. After our loss to East Grand, (head coach Tyler Palmiscno) texted me saying, 'Great game tonight, coach. We weren't the better team. We just had No. 17. That was (Jaksen) Panzer. That means a lot from a guy who's won state championships and played at a high level."
"I think it's no secret anymore that we're here to play," Noah said. "That goes outside of our section to Alexandria, Fergus (Falls) and Little Falls. They're scoreboard watching. They know what's going on, and we're on their schedule. We're gaining their respect, and rightfully so. These kids deserve it."
With games against Thief River Falls, Little Falls and Alexandria left on the schedule, the Lakers hope their best game is yet to come against more state-tournament hopefuls. Blow knows that he has to be on his game for his team to have a fighting chance.
"There are certain games that I know I'm going to need more from somewhere," Blow said. "We play East Grand Forks and Warroad, and we have (Alexandria) and Little Falls coming up on our schedule. It's extremely competitive. It gives us a chance to prove to the rest of the state that we're no joke. We are a team that you can't walk in here, go through the motions and beat us."
WARROAD 1 1 1 - 3
DETROIT LAKES 0 0 0 - 0
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- Warroad- Daimon Gardner (Ryan Lund) 8:07; SECOND PERIOD- Warroad- Gardner (Carson Reed, Matt Hard) 6:51; THIRD PERIOD- Warroad- Hard (Gardner, Lund) 15:17; PENALTIES- Detroit Lakes- 8 minutes on 4 infractions; Warroad- 6 minutes on 3 infractions; GOALTENDING- Detroit Lakes- Elijah Blow, L, 34 saves, 2 goals allowed; Warroad- Hampton Slukynsky, W, 14 saves, 0 goals allowed