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Boys hockey preview: Moose Lake Area numbers boost season outlook

For Moose Lake Area boys hockey coach Lee Costley, progress is measured in numbers.

This year's team has more bodies than last year, so right away, the team is starting from a better place than last year.

"That outlook is good," Costley said. "We have 13 skaters and three goalies compared to last year, when we had six to eight."

Last season's Rebels certainly took their lumps, finishing 2-23-1 and allowing 10 or more goals 10 times. But this year is a new year, and the addition of new blood to the program means it's headed in the right direction by default.

"We had a bantam team last year and the coaches did a tremendous job with them," Costley said. "Our youth organization has done a great job recruiting and retaining players. There's some excitement around the program so there is nice growth."

This year's team returns three of last season's four top scorers: co-captain Jordan Fjosne (10-14-24), Vern Anderson III (12-10-22) and Tommy Kliniski (2-8-10).

Fjosne and forward Anakin Oswald (4-3-7 in 13 games) are not only captains; they're returning captains, and that helps as well.

"Last year, we did a drill early in workouts and it took us three hours to explain it and get it to work right," Costley said. "This year, we did it in three minutes and having returning players helps with that. Jordan and Anakin handle what goes on in the dressing room. I handle what happens on the ice and they take care of the rest."

For the program to grow, it needs consistent involvement at the youth levels, which Costley says is now happening again in the cooperative program.

"Over the last two years, we have kept everyone from freshmen on down to bantams in the hockey program," Costley said. "We graduated four players last year and got seven from the bantams, so that's heading in the right direction."

Better yet, Costley is getting character kids. But that's a double-edged sword — most of them played football, which means captains' practices didn't amount to much.

"We lose out in captain's practice because we have so many kids from East Central, Moose Lake and Barnum who played football, and that success puts us behind a bit."

Costley, who is from Two Harbors, tells the story of Lute Olson, who started his basketball coaching career with the Agates before going to Iowa and then Arizona, in describing the start of his season.

"Lute once said he was going to put a hockey stick and a pair of skates over his shoulder and start walking south," Costley said. "When he got to a place where someone asked him what he was carrying, that's where he was going to stop walking and start coaching basketball. For me, I want to take a football and head north."

He's talking tongue-in-cheek, of course.

"We get respectful players who work hard and I love the success that Dave (Louzek) has had with his program," Costley said. "We get kids who are willing to bust their butts to save our program. That's a special group."

Costley also likes the skill and strength of his team.

"That's nothing against last year's team because they worked incredibly hard and there weren't many of them," he said. "But skill-wise, we are better. We aren't recruiting kids out of the hallway at school to make a team. The bantam kids can skate, shoot and pass and are stronger than last year."

The Rebels also return an experienced goaltender. Danny Whited played every minute of every game last year and was the team's only netminder.

"He started to figure it out last year when he realized that the net was his and nobody was taking it away from him," Costley said. "He worked out a lot over the summer and looks good. We have a freshman coming in from bantams too so we have numbers. We were one injury away last season from not being around. Things are starting to turn around."

The Rebels open their season Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Riverside Arena against Big Lake-Becker.