The Detroit Lakes boys hockey team and coaching staff are far more comfortable starting the second-year under head coach Ben Noah despite the season’s delayed start.
“The excitement is so much different this year,” said Noah. “Last year it was anxiety-driven. Is this thing going to work? Are we going to get people to buy in? Now, it’s like we already have the buy in and we know our guys are ready.”
Four of those players are from Perham, led by returning contributors Rian Solberg a junior at defense and senior forward Jacob McAllister.
McAllister was seventh in scoring on the team last year with 11 points, six of those goals. Solberg had a pair of assists but contributed far more on the defensive end clearing out the front of the net with his size.
A pair of Perham underclassmen are also ready to contribute in Aiden Kennedy and Dayton Koethke.
Noah is putting McAllister on one of the Lakers’ key top two lines. He will join Jake Green and Tommy Fritz in an all-senior line of high motor players to combat the top lines of opponents.
“They’re going to be a high energy line; they can start games and periods for us and kill penalties,” said Noah.
Solberg was one of a handful of skaters to make big strides in the offseason.
Noah had a group of his players use the skating treadmill at Sanford Power Sports in Fargo before the team had summer ice at the end of July.
“We saw a major difference in some of our players like Spencer Bergman and Rian Solberg,” Noah said. “They’re huge guys, 6-4 and over 200 pounds, and now they can skate.”
Noah is looking for both juniors to have breakout seasons.
Solberg is a top four defenseman joining Levi Gross and Lukas Justesen and will see on-ice time with DL’s top returning player, senior Braeden Wimmer.
“Wimmer’s going to be our heart and soul as far as what we want to do on the back end,” said Noah. “He’s going to be on the ice every other shift. He brings the size, physicality and speed on the back end. Without him, I think we’re always where we would be - the middle of the pack. With him, I think we’re going to be able to beat teams like Thief River and Alexandria.”
Re-tuning the Lakers’ schedule remains a work in progress, especially with COVID. Noah is pleased to have gotten Alexandria and Thief River Falls back in the mix. Noah and his staff have done the legwork to improve the competition level of DL’s games.
“Realistically, it comes down to relationship building with myself and the other coaches,” said Noah.
Besides the regular season, talk about future tournament play has also been in the works, mainly about how to make the Fergus Falls holiday tournament more meaningful.
Instead of North Dakota or Minnesota metro schools attending, Noah wants to see teams like Alex and Little Falls join the Otters and Lakers.
It makes sense on a section level for the three Section 6A teams and gets Noah and his team a level of competition they want on the schedule, potentially, more than once. It also brings together four teams from the same youth hockey district.
With four experienced players on defense, DL may roll just the four D-men in the early going.
A couple of sophomores, Jacob Thomas and Aiden Kennedy, will be lobbying for ice time, but may develop at the junior varsity level early in the season to prepare for 2021-22 when the three seniors are gone.
In goal, the Lakers have two solid options for starts.
Adding to the experience on defense is a battle for games in net between returning senior starter Jack Hines and junior Elijah Blow.
“Elijah is going to be pushing Hines to be his best because they’re both quality goaltenders,” said Noah.
In the early going, Beau Boehne (11 points) and Jordan Fields (14 points) are likely to be relied upon to lead in scoring.
“They’re ready to take that next step,” said Noah.
Wimmer is the top returning scorer. He was third on the team last season with 20 points (5G, 15A) behind graduated seniors Alex Bren and Jackson Fields.
Despite the December layoff, Noah and his staff have a solid idea on the makeup of all four lines to get the year started. That starts with the upperclassmen.
“This group of seniors is a great group of leaders,” said Noah. “They’re all bought in. Having a full season under our belt, our upperclassmen now understand our systems and know what to expect on a day-to-day basis. It’s going to make it so much easier for those underclassmen to transition and jump right into it.”
The second tier of the offense is built on competition.
DL will start the season with another all-senior third line (CJ Killmer, Nicholas Hess, Jayden Geerdes) to go with an all-sophomore fourth line (Carter Bellefeuille, Cole Larson, Ben Hines). All three are making the jump from Bantam A’s last year.
Noah wants to see competition between those two lines to ramp up competitiveness in practice and produce in games.
One of the goals for the team is to move up in the section playoff seedings. DL has been mired a four-seed or lower for years.
With East Grand Forks and Warroad the early 8A favorites, Noah wants his team locked into that three sport.
“That’s what we’re shooting for,” he said. “Our big goal right now is to take that next step and get into the top three seeds.”
Detroit Lakes opens the season at home in a rematch of the 8A quarterfinals against Kittson Central at Kent Freeman Arena Thursday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.