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Danecdotes: Solid seasons abound for area teams in hockey, basketball, wrestling

It has been a short, strange season, but various Pequot Lakes and PR-B teams are finding success

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The seasons started late. Fewer games and matches are taking place. Masks need to be worn by most athletes. A fraction of the usual number of fans are allowed in the building on game days.

But despite all of the changes and hardships this winter season has brought, several teams in Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus have persevered and are having very successful seasons so far.

Highlighting this group of successful teams may be the Road Crew wrestling team, which is heading into the postseason with a 26-4 record and a chance to break a program record for wins in a season, which was set just last year.

Head coach Travis Hoffarth recently picked up his 200th win, and 170-pounder Connor Tulenchik is now the program’s all-time wins leader.

“We try to keep it simple and control the things we can control,” Hoffarth said. “The kids know that they must stay on their academics, work hard in practice, make their weights and fight for each other. We do a really good job of fighting for each other.”

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Hoffarth points to a team full of capable athletes for the team's success. Lower-weight wrestlers Parker Zutter and Easton Miller have given the Road Crew an early lead 25 times this year. Moving up in the weight classes, Tulenchik and Owen Carlson have just one loss each on the season.

“Every starter has a winning record, so we don't have any huge holes,” Hoffarth said. “We are solid all the way through, so if a team has a few weaknesses we are going to capitalize … We have a group that wants to put a flag at the top of the mountain next to the team from 2014 that took fifth in the 2A State Tournament. We have a very good section, so it will be a challenge, but we are very capable.”

All that needs to be done for a successful season, according to the coach, is the team stay healthy and mentally fit through the postseason.

The best part, according to Hoffarth, is they should all be back next year.

“These kids have really good team chemistry and know their roles. We don't have any seniors in our starting lineup, so we know we have a window of great opportunity,” he said.

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Christian Crutcher and Quady Bernu (25) check Detroit Lakes' Cole Larson (27) as Lightning goalie Adler Hoagland sticks a Larson offering out of the crease during the second period of a Northern Lakes 5-2 victory at Kent Freeman Arena Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Moving from the mat to the ice, the Northern Lakes boys hockey team has had a banner year thus far, posting a 14-1 record as of publication.

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Coach Craig Larson saw this coming eight years ago.

“This group of seniors and juniors has been rather successful coming through the youth hockey grades - really one of the first groups that I targeted as being a good group of kids when they were Squirts,” Larson said. “I think they all knew this could be a big year for us - even if we had played a full season - and they have done everything we have asked them to do.”

Larson pointed to two things leading to the team’s success: the progression of senior goalie Adler Hoagland - who has yet to lose a game in net - and the leadership and work ethics of senior skaters Erik Larson, Owen Miller, Kyler Couture, Caiden Kjelstrom and Hunter Nybakken

“All of our seniors are tremendous athletes and they have dedicated themselves to be good athletes,” Larson said. “Those guys take care of the locker room. They have led the charge and they are a good core of just good human beings.”

With the season rapidly drawing to a close, Larson just wants to see the team win as many games as possible - particularly the section games - to ensure a high seed in the postseason.

“We are awfully proud of this group of kids, sticking together and working as hard as they do,” Larson said. “I think that it’s a testament to their off-ice work ethic and their character.”

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Pequot Lakes' Maci Martini looks to pass in the Patriots' victory over Crosby-Ironton Friday, Feb. 12.

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On the hardwood, the Pequot Lakes girls basketball team has followed its section runner-up performance last season with a record of 11-2. With a new head coach, defense has been a focus and it has paid off so far.

“The girls are playing defense with a lot of energy, and they just understand how quickly it relates to quick offense,” head coach Brian Lempola said. “The effort that they are giving us - both at the defensive level but also in rebounding - on a nightly basis has made a big difference, and it’s a big change since the start of the season.”

Dealing with a shortened season and a new coach, Lempola said the girls have surprised him with their willingness to adopt new ideas on the court.

“It was a weird year without a lot of offseason and we put a lot on their plates,” Lempola said. “Collectively, they were willing to take those challenges on … They have been able to pick up on those concepts and build off of them.”

In the final few games, Lempola hopes to see some cleaner, more consistent ball movement from his team.

“We have really, really good shooters, so we have to work to get better shots at times,” Lempola said. “It’s not so much effort, but execution more than anything.”

The Pine River-Backus girls basketball team has dealt with recent setbacks after six losses in a row, but still boasts a respectable 9-6 record as the regular season draws to a close, thanks to a remarkable start to the season.

“We just have a well-balanced attack,” head coach Tucker Sheley said. “Our senior leadership, especially given the short summer and just an odd year overall, definitely played a factor in our early success.”

He also chalks up team success to the girls’ friendships with each other, calling it a “very tight-knit group.”

Having experienced varsity athletes like Rylie Hirschey and Olivia Adkins has certainly played a role in the team’s high points, but Sheley points to the progress and solid performance of some younger players like sophomore forward Ramsey Tulenchik as an unexpected positive aspect of the team.

“I expected our seniors to really stand in and perform like they had in years past, but Ramsey specifically is one of the players that definitely has contributed more than I would have expected," he said.

To get back on track in the final three regular-season games, Sheley wants to see his team simply do the little things right.

“We just need to stick together and utilize our fundamentals, and get back to performing like we had been at the beginning of the year," he said.

Rounding out the teams with stellar seasons so far is the Patriot boys basketball team, boasting a 12-2 record.

“We are really playing well as a team and doing what needs to be done each night to get the job done,” head coach Rich Spiczka said.

With experienced athletes like seniors Bode Magnuson and Alex Morgan leading the offense, Spiczka expected big things from the Patriots this season, but was surprised by his team’s ability to respond to the changes and restrictions of the current season and still perform at a high level each night.

“I think we expected to have a solid season with so much experience back, but you really never know from year to year,” Spiczka said. “I think our guys have responded well to the COVID variables and have bought into playing together.”

As the season comes to an end, Spiczka hopes to see his team continue to do what they are doing, with the same level of effort they have given since early January..

“I think we need to build on what we have going and continue to focus on handling individual situations well,” Spiczka said. “If we stay together and all do our jobs we should have a great finish to the year.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.

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