Boys hockey: Thief River Falls overwhelms Detroit Lakes in Section 8A semifinal
One of the best Detroit Lakes boys hockey seasons in program history came to an end on Saturday night in East Grand Forks against Thief River Falls.
EAST GRAND FORKS – The Detroit Lakes boys hockey team thought Saturday was the day the program would take a massive step forward and clinch its first spot in a section title game since 1996. However, the Lakers still have lessons to learn before ascending to new heights.
Second-seeded Thief River Falls (16-11) showed what it takes to compete at a championship level in a 5-1 Section 8 semifinal win over Detroit Lakes (19-5-2).
“I think the moment was a little much for our program yet,” Detroit Lakes head coach Ben Noah said. “As we continue to strive for excellence, we are going to continue to learn different lessons. That team has been here before, and we have not– at least not in a situation like this. You could say that last year getting cut short and not being able to participate in the playoffs attributes to this inexperience, but this was a really gritty game, and we didn’t have enough on our roster to win a game like this.”
Through a period and change, it looked like the Lakers did have enough. Junior Aiden Kennedy scored the game’s first goal 1:25 into the second period with an assist from junior Carter Bellefeuille. Two minutes later, The Prowlers scored their first of five unanswered goals. Jaxon Brouse took advantage of a defensive-zone turnover when he buried a pass from Tysen Loeffler to tie the game. He scored again nine minutes later on an odd-man–rush over the glove of Lakers’ goalie Elijah Blow.
Thief River Falls played with more physicality than most of the teams Detroit Lakes saw this season. It helped the Prowlers take away the time and space of the Laker playmakers. After Kennedy’s goal in the second period, Detroit Lakes didn’t record an official shot until 4:48 remained in the third.
“Physically, we were outmatched,” Noah said. “You have to give (TRF) a lot of credit. They definitely found their way at the right time. Maybe we peaked a little early. I don’t know. All we can do, as a coaching staff, is assess what we can do to get a team ready to compete in a game like this so we can come out on the winning side.”
Brouse completed his hat trick late in the third period to put the nail in the Lakers’ coffin. Isaiah Villarreal added a pair of goals, including one in the empty net, to set up a date between the Prowlers and the top-seeded Warroad Warriors on Thursday at the East Grand Forks Civic Center (23-3-1).
Thief River Falls is playing its best hockey at the right time of the season. Despite losing to Detroit Lakes 2-1 on Jan. 13 at the Kent Freeman Arena, the Prowlers are riding a six-game win streak into the section final on Thursday, which includes wins over Fergus Falls, East Grand Forks and Bemidji. Warroad beat Thief River Falls 4-3 in overtime on Feb. 4.
Building for the future
This year was filled with many firsts for the Detroit Lakes boys hockey team. Its 19-5-2 record is one of the bests in program history. Despite its bitter end, this season could be looked back on as the turning point for a budding program.
“We climbed a lot of mountains this year,” Noah said. “Our record speaks for itself on how good of a season we had. We beat (TRF) earlier in the year for the first time in over 40 years in our program’s history. For the first time in program history, we were a top-three seed out of Section 8A. There’s a lot to be proud of, and I think as we continue to move forward as a program that we keep checking off these boxes until we get the right group at the right time.”
Ask any of the six Lakers seniors who have been around for the entirety of Noah’s tenure, and they will attribute this year’s breakout season to the coaching staff. But success in sports is a two-way street between coaches and athletes.
“They’re everything. They’re the ones that drive our culture,” Noah said of this year’s group of seniors. “They’re the ones that have created what’s going to be our foundation moving forward. They know that. I’ve told them that and will continue to tell them that for years to come. They were the group that started this whole thing. All of the success we had this year doesn’t come without them driving the ship.”
In Noah’s effort to elevate hockey in the community, he believes that young players need to learn the lessons from playing multiple sports to acquire the toughness required for winning a section title.
“I would love for the youth kids that are looking forward to wearing this jersey to understand how important it is to be a multi-sport athlete,” Noah said. “I’ve been around this game for a long time. A lot of times, the kids that are built for playoff hockey are the kids that compete in multiple sports.”
It’s too early to speculate how far the Lakers could go in the 2022-23 season, but Noah is looking forward to checking off more boxes. Whether it’s next year or down the road, he wholeheartedly believes Detroit Lakes hockey will play at a championship level someday.
“This is something that’s supposed to motivate our guys,” Noah said. “If they’re not motivated by this, then they’re probably not going to be that group that checks that box of going to state. We have a bright future in our program. We have great relationships between the youth, high school and the city. We have a lot of great things going on. All we can do is be very encouraged by what we were able to accomplish this year.”