The core group of the Detroit Lakes junior varsity boys hockey team recently met to discuss an incredible season of personal growth and team synergy that culminated in an 18-game unbeaten streak to polish off a 17-3-1 season.

Finding success took some time. The Lakers lost their opening three games.

“To start off the year we just weren’t in it right away,” junior forward Jayden Geerdes said. “But then our lines started connecting and synching in. Most of our success accumulated from the bench energy that was brought from the locker room and onto the ice.”

Geerdes was the vocal leader of the group that included sophomore goalie Elijah Blow and juniors Nicholas Larson, Jackson Lawrence, Lucas Schwan and Nicklaus Hess.

Jayden Geerdes breaks in on net during a critical come-from-behind victory over Northern Lakes to extend the team's winning streak at Kent Freeman Arena. Robert Williams / Tribune
Jayden Geerdes breaks in on net during a critical come-from-behind victory over Northern Lakes to extend the team's winning streak at Kent Freeman Arena. Robert Williams / Tribune

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Every team has role players on and off the ice and getting that energy started was Lawrence, who has played his part in the locker room as the team deejay.

“I pump ‘em up a bit and get ‘em going,” he said. “After a win, I just have that stuff cranking.”

As the season progressed and the winning streak took form, the team was jamming right along with Lawrence’s tunes.

DL won 17 straight games after the 0-3 start and came from behind in the season finale to force overtime and a 2-2 tie at Little Falls.

On the ice, Schwan set the tone with a brand of physical play bringing his own style of jam to the team.

“I get some pretty big hits and I put a little steam in our team and get us going,” he said.

A new coaching staff created a change in environment and after the first win of the season the players started to notice some team chemistry being built.

Head coach Ben Noah and assistants Michael Miller, Tanner Lane and Jack Kippen gave the kids the opportunity to gel as a complete unit by treating them fairly first.

“As a coaching staff, we made a vow right away that we were going to make sure our JV was treated the exact same as our varsity,” Noah said.

Sophomore defenseman Elijah Denardo fires a shot from the left point during a junior varsity game in early February at Kent Freeman Arena. Robert Williams / Tribune
Sophomore defenseman Elijah Denardo fires a shot from the left point during a junior varsity game in early February at Kent Freeman Arena. Robert Williams / Tribune

The entire coaching staff is on the bench coaching both games each night.

“It makes a huge impact that we’re all on the bench during the JV games coaching them the same way we do with the varsity,” said Noah. “JV or varsity, we’re all one. It was a challenge but we did everything we needed to do to make those kids feel like we’re all one.”

The kids credit Noah and the staff for creating time and opportunities for success.

“We have so much ice time,” said Hess. “At the beginning of the season, we didn’t even practice with the varsity. Coaches just worked on us getting better at our skills, stick handling and skating.”

Noah did not like the pace of the JV practice and made a change.

“I had to make that adjustment right away,” Noah said. “The whole idea was skill-develop but you’re not helping yourself if you’re not doing it at a high tempo and pace.”

It was a big benefit for the players on both teams.

“We got incorporated into their practice after our first couple wins because they saw our positivity and teamwork and they wanted to bring that into the varsity locker room and help them out,” Larson said.

“It elevated the play of our guys,” Noah said.

Junior Nicholas Larson looks to center the puck in the third period comeback victory over Northern Lakes Feb. 7. Robert Williams / Tribune
Junior Nicholas Larson looks to center the puck in the third period comeback victory over Northern Lakes Feb. 7. Robert Williams / Tribune

Larson had the most interesting season highlight when the group was asked for top moments from the streak. It was less about hockey and more about growing up and enjoying the game.

“Most years I’ve had issues getting along with teammates,” Larson said. “This year there was just a lot of fun. We didn’t have much arguing or fighting. It was just all good vibes in here. Winning helps, but everyone was open-minded to this year because of new coaching and all of that and that really helped.”

The Lakers captured the Fergus Falls holiday tournament, stole a game from St. Paul Johnson 2-1 after being outshot 40-15. DL posted an overtime win over Warroad and the comeback to tie against Little Falls.

DL was down 2-1 in that game and came out of a timeout with a play planned for a faceoff and executed it scoring to force overtime.

However, a late season home game was the unanimous choice for the big highlight of the season - a 3-2 victory over Northern Lakes to extend the winning streak to 16 games. It was also a game that showed the growth the team had made as a group. The Lakers went to the second intermission trailing and Noah and the staff stayed out of the room.

“We were down 2-1 and we each said one thing we could do that could boost our play, like our skill level for the third period and stuff,” said Blow. “We went out on the ice and within the first five minutes we had the lead. It was a complete group effort; we came together as a team and brought the energy into the building.”

“As a coach, when that’s happening you just let it happen,” said Noah. “We were definitely doing what we need to do to build the right culture. When kids are that into it and that passionate about playing with each other, you’re obviously doing something right as a coaching staff.”

Beating Warroad is always going to be a memorable season experience.

“That was insane,” Blow said. “The whole overtime basically was in our zone except for the last 40 seconds.”

Blow and his defensive pairing of Bailey Hoffman and Rian Solberg defended the net for four-minutes, 20-seconds of overtime just trying to keep the Warriors at bay.

Hess came through to turn the tide.

“I got off the bench and we were able to break it out pretty clean,” Hess said. “We came down the ice and Bailey Hoffman dropped it off to me and I picked my corner and it was over.”

Hoffman assisting was huge considering his extended shift leading to it.

“They had that whole overtime shift,” Blow said. “They couldn’t get out of the zone.”

“I think our bench energy was probably the biggest part of that game,” said Hess.

The interplay between varsity and JV created a festive atmosphere during and after games with the JV first to greet and hype up the team after wins and the varsity taking in the JV games.

“Our varsity guys would sit together, cheer them on, bang the glass and get excited for those guys,” said Noah.

Noah does not throw the word culture around as a coaching soundbyte. He started the Twitter feed @1PercntBtrEvyDy before the season that created a space where players of all ages could challenge each other to tangibly get better and showcase what they were doing for themselves and the team.

Players also took the opportunity to join the Lamoureux Hockey Camp. The successes of all the youth hockey programs are not just coincidental with the camp’s insertion into Laker hockey.

“It’s really beneficial because we get to work with our coach before the season starts and learn the style of hockey that he plays,” Geerdes said. “We learn the drills for the year coming up so we can get right into practice and get our legs moving right away.”

“It’s basically a big head start for the season,” said Blow.

This year’s group of youth hockey teams have created a buzz about the future of DL hockey.

The Peewee A’s and Bantam A’s advanced to regions. The Bantam B team piled up multiple tournament victories. Noah has worked closely and built relationships with those head coaches Paul Bender (Peewee A), Cody Einerson (Bantam B) and Jim Kennedy (Bantam A).

DL’s coaching leader has made an effort to stretch the cloak of team and all being one down to the youngest levels. The entire coaching staff brought varsity drills to two days of Peewee practice working on opening up toward the play, presenting the stick and calling for passes.

“Simple drills that create habits,” Noah said. “The biggest piece of doing that is so the coaches at that level see it and they’re continuing to coach that way throughout the whole year.”

Both Bantam teams combined to run through a full varsity practice in January that includes practice planning off the ice, dry land training, and two halves of drills like neutral zone regroup and other tactics to get players prepared mentally for what it’s going to be like at the next level.

Every Monday night up to 10 varsity players ran skills nights for Mites and Squirts. Including the upperclassmen had an uptick in practice pace for DL’s youngest skaters.

“The kids loved it and we got tons of good feedback from the coaches,” said Noah.

One of the synonymous comments from the JV group about this new form of DL hockey was having fun and translating that to wins.

Jackson Lawrence rips a shot past a Park Rapids defender in the high slot during the junior varsity's 17th consecutive victory at home on Feb. 11. Robert Williams / Tribune
Jackson Lawrence rips a shot past a Park Rapids defender in the high slot during the junior varsity's 17th consecutive victory at home on Feb. 11. Robert Williams / Tribune

“We had a lot more effort from the kids because they got more opportunities to be on the ice and put the puck in the net,” Larson said.

DL’s second unit turned those opportunities into an excellent season and great example for the rest of the program.

“Our JV just had something different this year,” said Geerdes. “The leaders on this team come to play.”