The season is over for the Moose Lake-Willow River boys hockey team, but coach Lee Costley can see the day where better things happen to his young team.
The Rebels bowed 7-1 at Mora/Milaca on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Section 5A tournament to finish their season 6-17-1.
"The game was a lot closer than that," Costley said. "Mora is very good out of the gate, so we knew that if we could hold on in the first period, we could play them even."
The Rebels trailed 1-0 after the first period, so when Avery Anderson scored his first goal of the season early in the second period, things looked pretty good.
Not so fast.
The tie lasted only 18 seconds as Garret Smith scored almost immediately after Anderson had tied the game. From there, Mora pulled away thanks in part to seven power plays of various incarnations in the last 18 minutes of the game.
"Even then, we competed," Costley said. "We had multiple chances to score and stay with them in the second period, but we couldn't score. We had some young players making young players mistakes and they were able to pull away. I thought we owned the second period and the third was a coin flip."
Costley is proud of how far his team came during the season.
"We got six wins, but could have 10 or more because of games where we were ahead and couldn't hold leads," he said.
He pointed to the season opening game against Becker-Big Lake, where his Rebels led 2-0 in the second period but then allowed four power play goals and a shorthanded goal in the middle period on the way to a 7-4 loss.
"We had kids playing in their first varsity games and they showed their nerves," Costley said. "We had a lot of teachable moments, but the big thing we learned was that when the kids give everything, they can compete."
There were other issues as well. For various reasons, Costley never had a full team available for any game this year.
"Between academic issues and injuries, we never had a full roster for any one game," he said. "We even had a player quit the team before the playoff game."
So how does a team handle that?
"I told them we've been here before," Costley said. "It's not uncommon for us to shuffle liens and play short a man."
Costley dressed 14 players for the game Tuesday night and was happy to note that additional numbers are on the way.
"The Bantam B team has talent and our Pee Wees were good last season," Costley said. "If we're able to get junior gold type players from Cloquet or Duluth to come and play high school hockey, we can raise the numbers further."
Costley had praise for Henry Ribitch (7-5-12), Adam Olson (9-14-23), Anderson and Paxton Vogel (2-3-5) as players who made special progress.
"Avery (Anderson) was one for sure," Costley said. "He was struggling early on and then he just flipped a switch and became a grinder. His motor never shut down."
Jordan Fjosne (21-17-38) and Vern Anderson (14-15-29) were the team's leading scorers while Danny Whited (4-11-1, 4.74, .844) was the top goaltender statistically.
"The kids don't quit and they don't stop," Costley said. "I think we turned the season around a bit when we played Becker the second time. We went there and beat them 2-1 and it could have been six or seven. That was the time the players realized that they could do this."