The Rebels win at last!
The long wait is over in Moose Lake.
On Saturday in Silver Bay, the Moose Lake Area boys hockey team defeated Ely 6-4 in the last game of the North Shore Tournament — and snapped a 35-game losing streak dating back to February 2012.
The Rebels, who have a 16-player varsity roster that includes four freshmen and only two seniors, outshot the Timberwolves 49-34 for the game and got four-point performances from two players.
Bryceton Butkiewicz scored a hat trick and added an assist for the Rebels and Richie Parry had a goal and three assists in the contest. Alex Erickson scored the game-winning goal at 9:27 of the third period to give Moose Lake Area a 5-2 lead.
Jordan Drewlo scored the other goal for the Rebels, who got 30 saves in goal from Gage Mohelsky for the team’s first win since a 9-1 playoff victory over Mora-Hinckley-Finlayson on Feb. 21, 2012.
“The players were pretty excited,” Coach Joe McConnell said. “It took us a bit to come down, and the bus ride home from Silver Bay to Moose Lake was pretty exciting too. It was fun. It was a big day for us.”
The Rebels came close — painfully close, in fact — to breaking the streak the Saturday before, when they lost a 4-2 lead in the third period at North Branch and fell 5-4 on a late overtime goal.
“That was tough,” McConnell said. “It was hard on all of us. I tried to stay level-headed on the bench because in the end it’s just a game, but the kids took it (the loss) pretty hard. We had a two-goal lead in the third period and we thought this was it (breaking the streak), but North Branch wouldn’t give up.
“In the moment, they were upset,” McConnell continued. “We missed a shot at an open net late, and we had chances in overtime but we said after the game that it was a positive thing, that we could have won. [They] put it all out there and there is only so much gas in the tank.”
So the loss to the Vikings did help the Rebels last Saturday.
“Part of [the North Branch loss] was lack of experience,” McConnell said. “We didn’t have a close game last year and we didn’t know how to react. We needed to win and now that we have seen what we could be, we can build on it and develop the mentality that we can win those close games.”
Before the Rebels get too high, however, their coach pointed out that the team had been blown out in its two prior tournament games, including a 13-1 loss to North Shore just the day before.
“We watched North Shore lose 5-0 to Red Lake Falls in the first game of the tournament,” McConnell said. “They were a good team but we didn’t expect to get blown out. So this was a good win and a great response.”
McConnell said that the second half of the schedule may be kinder to the Rebels (1-8-0).
“We play Ely twice more, and we have teams like Highland Park and Pine City that are struggling and building like we are,” he said. “That might make for more competitive games. We might get a couple more wins before the season is over but the players and parents know where we’re at. They know we’re young and we’re going to make young mistakes.”
That said, the “W” was sweet.
“It took me about an hour and a half to stop smiling after the game,” McConnell said. “I felt like a kid.”