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From the Catbird Seat: Moose Lake hockey is rebuilding

Joe McDonnell has a big job on his hands, but it’s one he is relishing.

After spending last season as an assistant to Trevor Howe, McDonnell took over the Rebels’ boys hockey program this winter and is charged with rebuilding it into the solid Class A program it was a few seasons ago.

If you’ll pardon the expression, a lot of water has passed under the bridge in Moose Lake hockey, only some of it from the flood of June 2013.

The high-scoring Cisar family is gone, lost to graduation and junior hockey, and that once-in-a-generation influx of talent went with it.

In 2012-13, Josh Cisar led the state in goal scoring and the Rebels finished

12-15. They were 18-8-1 the season before that.

Then the flood came, and the Rebels’ program changed.

Howe said last season that the fate of Riverside Arena, which was flooded with water four feet deep, made some players decide not to play hockey. The result was an 0-26 season and a drop in numbers in the varsity program.

McDonnell is the program’s third head coach in three seasons and he’s building a program that has, unfortunately, now lost 33 consecutive games dating back to the 2013 playoffs.

But he’s optimistic.

“We are playing hard, and we’re improving,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of numbers out for the program but the good thing about that is that nobody is complaining about playing time.”

Sixteen players are out for the varsity this year — 13 skaters and three goaltenders, which means the Rebels skate two lines and two sets of defensemen on most nights.

One of those players is goaltender Gage Mohelsky, who played heroically through last season and has started strong again this year.

“Gage is our backbone,” McDonnell said. “He keeps us in a lot of games and has been great for us.”

While the team is 0-6 this season, it nearly snapped the streak last Saturday night in a 5-4 overtime loss at North Branch, scoring the most goals the team has scored in a game since it last won — Feb.21, 2013, in a 9-1 win over Mora.

The Rebels led that game 4-2 in the third period but couldn’t hold on in regulation and fell on a power-play goal with five seconds remaining in the extra


“The good thing we are seeing is that we have kids in the program now that are coming up through the youth ranks and are staying with it,” McDonnell said. “That means we don’t have a lot of players who play hockey, stop playing hockey and then come back to it in high school.”

That is the kind of grass-roots growth the program needs to succeed again.

McDonnell — who did not play high school hockey but has a history with the Rebels’ program as an assistant to Howe — is excited for the program’s future and is happy now that Riverside Arena has been restored to full function.

“We’ve got concessions back and we rebuilt our locker room,” he said. “We had volunteers come help to build and paint the locker room and we have a home for our team again.”

The first win, when it comes, will be cause for celebration.

“We tell the players that we don’t focus on wins and losses yet but I won’t lie, that first win is going to be very special,” McDonnell said. “We need one so we can say later on that when we play games we should win, we know how to get there.”

And the Rebels will get there. It’s a matter of time.