White Bear Lake's Mitch Morrisette (19) fights to control the puck against Mounds View on Feb. 14.
Tim Sager will come right out and say it.
"Up front, it's probably one of the thinnest teams I think we've had," the longtime White Bear Lake coach said. "We've got one line, but after that, it's slim pickings."
The Bears secured their second consecutive Suburban East Conference title with a 7-1 victory over Mounds View on Tuesday, Feb. 14. That "one line" combined for 12 points in the effort. Mike Abrahamson recorded two goals and one assist. Mitch Morrisette finished with two goals and three assists. Jake Wahlin added one goal and three assistants.
Better one line than none, apparently. But Tuesday's victory has not been the norm for White Bear Lake this season. After graduating 86 percent of their scoring from Brandon Wahlin, Mac Jansen and Max Birkinbine, the Bears knew this season would be different. Victories would need to come in low-scoring, tight contests.
"We knew our team defense would have to be that much better," senior captain and defenseman Jack Morrisette said. "We're not going into games and getting six, seven goals a game like we did last year."
With four defensemen and starting goaltender Jared Schletty returning from last year's state tournament team, the Bears would be built around team defense.
The boys had a tough time adjusting to that fact most of this season.
"Just trying to do too much," Sager said. "At times, we've played really well. At other times, my wife looks at me and says, 'Well, that's an awful interesting game you guys played tonight.' "
For example, White Bear Lake was playing sloppy hockey against conference opponent East Ridge a couple weeks ago before Sager addressed his team.
"You're living dangerously," he said. "This isn't the way we need to be playing."
After eking out a victory over the Raptors, the Bears would play the same way -- maybe even worse -- against Roseville, this time losing 3-1.
White Bear Lake has indeed had its forehead-slapping moments, including back-to-back nonconference drubbings by Lakeville South and Hill-Murray, in which the Bears were outscored 14-3.
But the Bears aren't bad news. They sport a solid and experienced defensive corps of Jack Morrisette, R.J. Majkozak, Lance Carney and Thomas Delaney. Despite a 1-6-0 nonconference record, they appear to be ramping up at the right time.
Scoring has been consistent from the top line, with Mitch Morrisette's 20 goals and 26 assists through Tuesday. Freshman Wahlin, Brandon's younger brother, has emerged with 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points. Abrahamson is next with 32 points.
White Bear Lake shocked the boys' high school hockey world with last year's 5-4 double-overtime section upset over longtime rival and then-No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray. If the Bears are to make a run at repeating last year's playoff success, they will need to come with sound defensive play rather than an offensive onslaught.
While an earlier 7-2 defeat at the hands of Hill-Murray was sobering, Jack Morrisette believes last year's miracle has provided confidence and belief in this team.
"They see the upset like that, and in the back of their minds, they know it's possible. Whereas the last couple years before that, you go in there and it seems like the mountain you're just never going to get to the top of," Morrisette said. "I think after that, people have a little more confidence and an understanding that it can be done."