Boys hockey: Lakers score 4 unanswered to clinch Mid-State title against WDC
The Detroit Lakes boys hockey team scored four unanswered goals to beat Wadena-Deer Creek. Also, a look at where the Lakers and Wolverines stand in their respective sections.
WADENA – Each game carries more postseason weight than the last during this time of year.
The Detroit Lakes and Wadena-Deer Creek boys hockey teams are vying for seeding in their respective sections, which made Monday’s rescheduled contest even more pivotal.
The Lakers (15-5-1) scored four unanswered goals to get back in the win column after a hard-fought loss on Saturday in Brainerd (8-11-2). It was a Mid-State Conference clinching victory for Detroit Lakes.
WDC (11-8-1), on the other hand, is on the verge of slipping out of the top four in Section 6A.
Aron Sutherland got the Wolverines on the board early in the first period. He beat Detroit Lakes goaltender Josh Mack with a seeing-eye shot from the left faceoff dot 4:19 into the game.
The early tally was WDC’s only source of offense. Detroit Lakes dominated play in the first period and was rewarded with a goal from Cole Larson. He sniped the top-right corner 53 seconds before the intermission.
“We needed that one,” Detroit Lakes head coach Ben Noah said of the Lakers’ tying goal. “You don’t want to go to the locker room looking at the scoreboard wondering why you’re down 1-0 after you outshot them 15-3. It’s a different game if we don’t even things up there.”
Ben Hines stayed hot in the second period. He gave the Lakers their first lead 2:47 into the period with an assist from Tommy Suckert.
“The biggest goal of the game was the second goal,” Noah said. “I think our guys felt like they should’ve been up more after the first period. To get one early in the second and play with a lead was huge. They weren’t white-knuckling their sticks anymore. They started to play with the confidence that comes with having a lead.”
Hines extended his point streak to six games. The senior captain has 10 goals and eight assists, including five goals in the last three games. He’s proven to be a primary source of offense for the Lakers down the stretch.
“Coach told us a few practices ago to try to be the best player on the ice all the time,” Hines said. “I’ve kind of changed my mentality around that. I want to be the best player on the ice. I want to improve with every shift. Stuff is starting to click for me, and I’m playing with a ton of confidence right now. I just want to keep that ball rolling.”
Easton Kennedy doubled the lead on the power play late in the second before Cooper Moore added a back-door insurance goal early in the third.
Defensively, Detroit Lakes was stout. A three-goal lead felt too steep, even for an offensively-centered team like WDC.
“Against Brainerd, we weren’t that great defensively,” Hines said. “Our goal was to shut them down tonight and play better defensively. The seniors took over things today. We’ve been in the program for three years. We knew what we had to do defensively, and it just came down to us executing.”
Gunner Olson, the Wolverines’ junior goaltender, was more than formidable. He made 27 saves, keeping WDC within reach of closing the gap for most of the night.
“That’s what we want,” WDC head coach Scott Woods said of getting good goalie play. “We need to make sure they get a chance to see the puck. When we defend it well, and there’s a 2-on-1 where we take away the pass, we want you to make the save. But when a guy is standing on the doorstep, there’s no chance. Gunner was really good tonight.”
Mack was also strong for Detroit Lakes. He picked up his 15th win of the season with 17 saves.
After Saturday’s loss against Brainerd, the Lakers have little room for error heading into the final games of the regular season. The goal is to beat out Thief River Falls (9-12-1)for the No. 3 seed in the Section 8A tournament.
Before the opening rounds for 6A and 8A, the coaches will meet to vote on how the teams are seeded. In 8A, Warroad (22-0-0) is a lock for the top seed, while East Grand Forks (12-9-0) is a sure No. 2. The goal is to avoid Warroad, arguably the best high school hockey team in the state regardless of class, for as long as possible.
“In this final stretch, our goal was to win 11 straight games,” Hines said. “Losing to Brainerd kind of stung. Every game in these last three games feels like a must-win. We are fighting for the three seed. We’ve had the mentality for the last few games that we have to win, and we knew (WDC) would come out here and give us their best game.”
Despite a loss to Brainerd, the Lakers feel they can control their destiny by winning out.
“If we were going to lose a game down the stretch, Brainerd was the game to do it,” Noah said. “They aren’t a common opponent with Thief. They’re a double-A school, and we played them hard. The big one for us is Little Falls. They beat Thief, so if we can beat them, we should be in good shape. But anything can happen here in the last few weeks.”
For WDC, Monday marked a fourth consecutive loss. The Wolverines are slipping into the thick of the Section 6A standings after dropping games to Morris-Benson Area (11-8-0), Northern Lakes (6-12-0) and Fergus Falls (12-7-1).
“We’re in a bit of a funk right now, but now is when you want it to happen instead of in a month,” Woods said. “You don’t want to peak now and then go through a stretch like this during the playoffs. I’ve been through it for so many years. Every year you go through a funk like this. It’s not bad. It’s not like we’re not competing. We’re just not pulling out games like we did early in the year. We just keep telling them they need to get back up, dust themselves off and pull it together when it really matters.”
“Even the Northern Lakes game, which has turned into a bit of a rivalry. Yeah, you want to win that one, but it’s the third one you really want to win. Getting them in the playoffs is what really matters.”
WDC, who averages five goals per game, has scored only six in its last three contests
“The goal scoring will come back. We’re not going to worry about that,” Woods said. “We’ve had a tough stretch here in the last three or four games. Obviously, nobody likes losing our straight. We just need to shore up defensively. The goals will come.”
Section 6A has been a dog fight from day one. The last two weeks of the regular season won’t change that, and the Wolverines are in the middle of the mess.
“That week didn’t help with seeding,” Woods said. “It made kind of a mess of things. We could be anywhere from 3-5. We did beat MBA 6-0 the first time, but they got the second one. We beat Northern Lakes, who lost to Little Falls, and beat(Alexandria), but then we lost to Northern Lakes. Alex beat Fergus, who we lost to. If Alex beats Fergus again, those two teams are in the top two spots. Alex played a tough schedule, but they didn’t play section games either. There’s just so much that can happen between now and that vote.”
DL 1 2 1 – 4
WDC 1 0 0 – 1
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- WDC- Aron Sutherland (Dalton Moyer) 4:19; DL- Cole Larson (Cole Deraney, Ben Hines) 16:07
SECOND PERIOD- DL- Hines (Suckert) 2:47; DL- Easton Kennedy (Deraney, Thomas) PPG, 15:06
THIRD PERIOD- Cooper Moore (Jace Fields, Jacob Thomas) 2:03
PENALTIES- DL- 8 minutes on 4 infractions; WDC- 6 minutes on 3 infractions
GOALTENDING- DL- Josh Mack, W, 17 saves, 1 goal allowed; WDC- Gunner Olson, L, 27 saves, 3 goals allowed