Every year, teams lose key players to graduation. They're forced to move on and replenish those voids with young, upcoming, moldable talent.
Lakeville South lost a couple of its key contributors that way, but the biggest hit came from the loss of one of its youngest and most talented core members, sophomore Kyle Osterberg, who chose to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program this season.
"Kyle's dream is to wear that USA across his chest, and it's pretty tough to argue with the kid," Cougars head coach Kurt Weber said.
Osterberg, who accounted for about 2.5 points per game last season, along with current juniors Justin Kloos and Alex Harvey, made up one of Minnesota's most potent scoring lines last season – not to mention a strong friendship among the young trio previously nicknamed "the Penguin Line." They had all played together on and off since peewees.
"It was definitely difficult," said Kloos, who continues to blossom as one of the state's best forwards. "We weren't only pretty good on the ice together, but we were great friends off the ice. I know he'll have success wherever he goes, so I wasn't harsh on him about his decision at all."
Said Harvey: "I knew his one goal was to make that team. He was a key part, but we just have to move on and forget about it."
The "Penguins" are still in contact with one another, and their friendship is strong, but like Harvey said, the show must go on.
So the Cougars got down to business – and at first, business was painful. Injuries to key players and a high-octane schedule threw a four-game losing streak in Lakeville South's face.
But with a little health, defense and sticking within the team system, Lakeville South is back on track, as evidenced by a seven-game unbeaten streak that included a 5-2 win over conference rival and Class 2A top-10 team Apple Valley on Jan. 15.
While the first line's scoring ability is obvious, it's the team's two-way game that often goes unnoticed. That first line of Kloos, Harvey and newcomer John Wiitala stifled Apple Valley's A.J. Michaelson and Hudson Fasching. Kloos still managed to post four points.
"And if you watched him play, he could have had more," Weber said.
Wiitala, a sophomore, has fit in nicely on the first line, which continues to score at a high level. Through 12 games, Kloos had 18 goals and 21 assists, and Harvey 15 goals and 18 assists.
Drew Brevig's posted two goals and 19 assists to lead a talented defensive core with Joe Freemark, Ethan Quinnell and Charlie Heller. Without as much depth as some of the state's superpowers, Lakeville South needs to stick with a steady game plan.
"If you can't play together against Hill-Murray and Eagan, you're going to lose and skill is going to win out," Weber said. "We won that Apple Valley game with our defense."