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Moose Lake hockey coach focusing on team play

The Moose Lake Area boys hockey program is getting a new look from a new coach this winter.

Lee Costley is the new coach, with an extensive background in high school and college coaching that he brings into a new situation.

“I’ve worked with USA Hockey, coached at the high school level and at Lake Forest (of the NCHA),” Costley said. “I’m used to doing this (coaching) at a higher level so it’s good to be working with younger kids.”

Costley, who is a Two Harbors native, has been in coaching for 26 years. He inherits a young team that has just lost arguably its best player, Bryceton Butkiewicz, to junior hockey’s Minnesota Wilderness.

Yet that hardly matters to Costley.

“I hadn’t seen any of these players before we started practice,” he said. “In a small program you have kids who can score goals but they take over the game in a way and that doesn’t always fit into a unit atmosphere. I don’t know any of them so that’s no knock on anyone, but I’d rather have three kids involved in two goals against a higher level team than one player scoring four goals against a weaker opponent.”

The team has had eight practices heading into this week’s opening games at North Shore Storm and St. Paul Highland Park. The Rebels’ home opener is Dec. 8 against Mora-Hinckley-Finlayson.

Costley has 14 skaters and two goaltenders in his program — and that’s it.

“Everyone is going to get their baptism,” he predicted. “No one can sit back and just take in the moment. They have to come in and play. Their moment is now.”

Costley plans to meet the challenge of a small roster through conditioning. “Everyone we play will have four lines,” he said. “We have three lines, four defensemen and one extra. If we aren’t conditioned, we’ll have a hard time hanging in there.”

The new coach described a series of “teachable moments” from the first practices, alongside a squad willing to learn.

“I heard a few years back this team lost every game and had to forfeit its playoff game,” he said. “No kid should ever have to go through that experience. So when this job became available, I was interested. We’re rebuilding a program and a culture from scratch. The prior group of coaches worked its tails off to give me a great group of very coachable kids. These are the right kids, who are here to work hard and learn this game.”

While acknowledging that change is a slow process, Costley is optimistic.

“The community support is huge and if we didn’t have it we’d really be in a tough spot,” he said. “We needed equipment, pucks, socks, breezers and some kids needed gloves. Now we have the equipment to play, and we have people who care about the rink and keep it looking good.”

Leading the way in Costley’s revolution are the captains, forward Nick Legge and defenseman Wyatt Lampel.  

“Nick was the first kid to walk into my classroom, shake my hand and tell me what he wanted to get out of the program, which was very impressive,” he said. “Wyatt is a great on-ice leader who works hard and works by example.”

Wegge (9 goals, 15 assists) is the top returning scorer with senior Logan McNulty (5-18-1, 5.02, 1 SO) expected to take the lion’s share of the goaltending duties.

“We don’t return a lot of scoring but we have an experienced goaltender,” Costley said. “We just want to take it slow, one shift at a time to learn, and not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Installing a new system — and concentrating on fun — is how Costley hopes to help rebuild the program.

“The most important players on the ice are the ones without the puck,” he said. “We need to focus on that responsibility to those players. Otherwise we’ll really struggle.”

The end goal is to produce players who move to the next level and help build the program in the long term.

“We don’t have a banner in our rink that says this person or that is playing at UMD,” he said. “Every kid’s goal is to keep playing after high school and we don’t have that. Now, it’s about how we get that belief. We won’t worry about other teams in the beginning but rather about what we do well.”