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Boys hockey: Detroit Lakes reloads with 12 seniors with hopes of solidifying itself as a contender

Last year's breakout boys hockey season ended on a sour note with a 5-1 loss against Thief River Falls in the Section 8A semifinals. The Lakers are back with something to prove as they hope to take another step forward with a senior-loaded roster.

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Detroit Lakes' Carter Bellefeuille, middle, waits for the official to drop the puck in the first period of the Lakers' 5-1 loss to Thief River Falls at the East Grand Forks Civic Center on Feb, 26, 2022 in the Section 8A semifinal. Bellefeuille was named a captain for the 2022-23 season.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES – The Detroit Lakes boys hockey team had a breakout season in 2021-22, but it ended on a sour note.

The Lakers fell to Thief River Falls 5-1 in the Section 8A semifinal–one game short of where they felt they should be. It’s a loss that humbled and motivated a group of 12 seniors ready to reload.

“That game changed who I am as a player,” senior captain Ben Hines said. “I think some guys felt like they didn’t leave it all out there, and there’s nothing worse than ending a season like that. We need to make sure we leave everything out there in every practice and every game, so we don’t have that regret.”

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Ben Hines chases after a Warroad defenseman in the first period during Detroit Lakes' 3-0 loss against Warroad on Jan. 8, 2022 at the Kent Freeman Arena.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“The worst part about that game is knowing we didn’t show up to play,” senior captain Carter Bellefeuille said. “We weren’t winning the 50-50 battles. They out-muscled us off every puck. That’s our game. That’s how we win games. We don’t have those skilled players to take over a game. That’s what made it hurt the most: getting beat at your own game. It’s a big motivation for this year. It’s one thing to get out-skilled, but you can’t get out-worked.”

Senior captain Jacob Thomas admitted to being a prisoner of the moment in the section playoffs last year. He also feels like he better understands what it takes to win those games.

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“Honestly, it was a little overwhelming,” Thomas said. “For most of us, that was just our second playoff game ever. Even as a junior captain, I was overwhelmed. Seeing Thief River with all those seniors and how they wanted it more than we did showed us what it takes to win a game like that.”

Detroit Lakes finished last season with a record of 19-5-2 in head coach Ben Noah’s third year at the helm. Not only was it the best mark of his short tenure, but the Lakers also spent most of the season ranked in the top 10, according to Let’s Play Hockey.

Noah believes they can take a step further in year four.

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Cooper Moore, left, tries to knock the puck away from Carson Reed in the first period during Detroit Lakes' 3-0 loss against Warroad on Jan. 8, 2022 at the Kent Freeman Arena.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“We had a great offseason as far as executing our communication and getting full buy-in from the newcomers,” he said. “We have an incredible class of 12 seniors, and they did a great job of organizing, putting in a lot of work and doing community service stuff. They continued to build our brand. There are some high expectations for our team this year inside of our locker room. I don’t think it’s coming from anywhere else yet, and we’re good with that. We know how good we can be, and these kids believe in themselves.”

Section 8A has been dominated by Warroad, East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls for decades, but Detroit Lakes’ emergence threw another hat into the ring a year ago. Thomas hopes to keep it there and make more noise this winter.

“I read something about how Section 8A is a three-team section,” Thomas said. “After being the third seed and being a top-10 team a lot last year, it’s that kind of stuff that gives you a chip on your shoulder. I know what we’re capable of and what kind of team we have. I expect us to be one of the top teams in the section again.”

Detroit Lakes will have to figure out how to replace its entire top line. Spencer Bergman, Beau Boehne and Jordan Fields accounted for 120 of the Lakers’ 336 points. Bergman led the team with 20 goals and 31 assists.

Midday through the year, Boehne’s season ended due to a complication with COVID-19. The top-line vacancy created opportunities for underclassmen.

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“The beauty of this three-year rebuild is you get to experiment with a lot of different things and get a lot of different guys playing time,” Noah said. “Because last year’s senior class was small, we had a ton of juniors and sophomores in our lineup. We will only have three guys who didn’t play last year. That’s exciting. We’re three lines deep with five quality defensemen and a senior goaltender. The depth has never been this strong.”

Detroit Lakes will also have to replace its starting goaltender. Elijah Blow posted a record of 10-5-2 with a .907 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average.

In steps senior Josh Mack, who started in eight games last season. He posted a perfect 8-0-0 record with three shutouts. He had a .941 save percentage and 1.12 goals against average.

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Jacob Thomas, right, ties up Shane Zierden in the second period of Detroit Lakes' 4-2 loss to Fergus Falls at Kent Freeman Area on Nov. 27, 2021.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“He’s been waiting for this opportunity and has been with us every step of the way,” Noah said of Mack. “He was with us as a freshman when our staff took over. He had a lot of growing to do, and he stuck with it. He trusted the process. He’s here as a senior, and he’s ready. He’s waited four years to do this.”

The usual suspects remain in contention for the Section 8A crown. However, the Lakers look to lean on their 12 seniors, including the three captains.

“I think everybody can be a leader. If you have a team full of leaders, then you have a dang good hockey team,” Hines said. “Being a leader, you just have to be a good role model and do the right thing. If everybody is doing the right thing, that’s how championship teams are made. I felt like it was an honor to be selected as a captain because we’re so deep and have so many guys that could’ve been picked.”

“I feel like you shouldn’t change who you are just because you’re one of the leaders on the team,” Bellefeuille said. “You have to be mindful of the things you do because the younger players look up to you, but you also have to stay true to yourself. It’s why you were picked as a leader in the first place.”

The senior presence will be called on early. Detroit Lakes’ second week of practice was marred with illness. Noah canceled two practices with nearly half the team out with the flu just days before the Lakers host Fergus Falls on Nov. 26.

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“I see it as a challenge to our seniors,” Noah said. “Prove me wrong and don’t come out flat. Prove me wrong and have this adversity not affect us. They need to be mature early on because they’re the ones that are going to lead us. We’re going to rely on them to play our structure and play Laker hockey.”

Noah feels like now is the time for the program to take a step forward. His sights are set on getting a chance to play for the program’s first state berth since 1996.

“Section final,” Noah said. “That’s not saying if we don’t reach it, then this season is a failure because of how tough our section is, but that’s where we believe we should be at the end of the year.”

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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