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Moose Lake boys hockey: Built from the ground up

MOOSE LAKE, Minn. - For the Moose Lake Area boys hockey program, rebuilding has been a long process - but one well worth the investment. Coach Sherm Liimitainen has seen his team go from a 4-21 record three seasons ago to 11-3-1 so far this seaso...

MOOSE LAKE, Minn. - For the Moose Lake Area boys hockey program, rebuilding has been a long process - but one well worth the investment.

Coach Sherm Liimitainen has seen his team go from a 4-21 record three seasons ago to 11-3-1 so far this season, with big games coming up before this year's section playoffs.

"It's been great recently," Liimitainen said. "We won seven of our last eight games last season and so far this season we've been playing well."

Moose Lake Area is a cooperative program from four schools, which has been both a strength and a weakness.

"Our main area of concern has been keeping local kids here," Liimitainen said. "Four years ago we lost kids to Marshall, to East and to Cloquet. The kids who stuck with us and stayed here have done very well."

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Senior goaltender Logan McAllister, from Sandstone East Central, has performed very well, boasting a 2.3 goals-against-average and a save percentage over 92 percent. He's backed up by sophomore football tackle Austin Lanoue, who is 4-1 this season.

"Both those kids are three-sport athletes and I'm a big fan of that," Liimitainen said.

The team's top scorer is senior captain Daniel Anderson, who has scored an eye-popping 25 goals to go with 11 assists for 36 points while holding a plus-14 rating at even strength.

"He's played in every situation," Liimitainen said. "We even use him as a defenseman when we're two men short and as a point man on the power play. He's out there a lot and he reminds me a little of Curt Giles in the way he's so smart about the game."

Nine of Anderson's goals came in a three-game explosion earlier this month. He scored twice in a 4-2 win over Proctor on Jan. 20, picked up a hat trick in a 5-2 win against Silver Bay two nights later, and bagged four goals in a 7-1 win over Ely later in the week.

The team has come a long way.

"(Assistant coach) Chris Gamst and I have been through a lot of growth in the program," Liimitainen said. "In our first year here, we had a goaltender that had never put on a pair of skates before coming out for us. Ethan Skog was a tremendous football player and we all appreciated what he did [as a goalie]. But now we have Bantam B players coming up to varsity, they learn to play a more intense game and the systems that are needed to play at this level. It's not about just giving the puck to your best guy and letting him go."

Liimitainen also had praise for junior forwards Rejean Carlson and Dylan Peterson.

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"They've both done very well, especially defensively," he said. "And we've got a freshman who's doing very well too."

That would be 5-foot-2 winger Chris Gassert, who has turned heads all season long. He has already scored 15 points this season and had an eight-game point scoring streak earlier in the season.

"He can really go," Liimitainen said. "He doesn't have much height to him but he's got arms like a weightlifter and he's very quick."

The squad balance is also good. Moose Lake Area boasts six seniors for the team's present, as well as three freshmen and an eighth-grader for the team's future. With the playoffs looming, Liimitainen is excited to see how his young players will perform.

"We're going to get a good test this weekend when we play Pequot Lakes," he said. That team is coached by ex-Minnesota North Star defenseman Shawn Chambers.

"It's sort of like we're starting our playoffs now since they are in our section," Liimitainen added. "They beat us 7-1 earlier in the season when we didn't have all our players available and we have to be ready. We usually play them tough and it's usually a good game."

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