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Rebels are in a good place

By Jeff Papas Pine Journal, 11/26/15, 11:00AM CST



By Jeff Papas on Nov 25, 2015 at 2:44 p.m.

The upward path is continuing for Moose Lake Area boys hockey, with the Rebels expected to improve on last season’s eight-win total.

Third-year head coach Joe McDonnell has better numbers, a more experienced defense and one of the area’s top scorers in junior Bryceton Butkiewicz to help bolster his team, which fell 3-2 to Chaska at Riverside Arena Friday night in its season opener, with Butkiewicz scoring both goals for the Rebels.

“On the surface we played OK,” McDonnell said. “I think we were OK for the first game. We have a lot of improving to do, and we didn’t work together very well at times, but that was expected with younger guys and trying new line combinations. We hung in there and had a chance at the end.”

The Rebels were outshot 41-17 for the game, with junior Logan McNulty making 38 saves — but that number was deceiving.

“Most of their shots weren’t from good scoring positions,” McDonnell said. “We did a nice job of keeping them outside the circles and gave ourselves a chance.”

Both of the Rebels’ goals came on power plays, with Butkiewicz scoring at 1:41 of the second period and 8:15 of the third period.

Moose Lake Area never led in the game.

“Neither of the goals was artistic,” McDonnell said. “But [Butkiewicz] has such a quick release, one of the quickest I’ve seen. He just got rid of the puck so fast the goalie couldn’t react.”

“He does things almost every game that surprise me,” McDonnell said of Butkiewicz. “At times it seems like he can score whenever he wants. He’s good. He’s using his size a lot more and he’s fast when he wants to be. We just need him not to work so much on his own, which he developed doing in the past. When he uses his teammates we are a better team.”

Defensively, the Rebels should be better than a year ago as well.

“We have Joey (Whited) and Wyatt (Lampel) returning and that’s a help,” McDonnell said. Cody Anderson, who transferred to White Bear Lake last year due to family issues but is back this winter, is ineligible until Dec. 1 and his return will help more.

“We have other players who want time and we’re trying to find out who fits there,” McDonnell said.

McNulty has the goaltending situation under control, but that’s different than last year too.

“I feel very confident,” McDonnell said “but last year Logan was our only goalie. We told him: ‘This is your net, we’ll help you as much as we can, but if things go bad we have no sub.’ It’s not like that this year.”

McDonnell has noticed improvement in the junior.

“Last year he had a roller-coaster season which you expect from a sophomore,” he said. “At times he was lights-out and other times not so much. But against Chaska when he saw the puck he stopped it, his angles were good and he controlled his net. It’s been a much different story. We don’t have to turn the net over to a sophomore and say ‘good luck.’”

Too, the program has a junior varsity team this year which will also help with development. However, it has come at the expense of the bantam program.

“We could either have a nine-person bantam team or a JV team,” McDonnell said. “Right now we have no bantam team in Moose Lake but who knows what will happen over the next few years?”

McDonnell said the program is back on the road to better times.

“I would say honestly we’re where I want to be,” he said. “Four year ago we struggled to have a team and then we relied on all freshmen and sophomores with a senior goaltender (Gage Mohelsky). One of our goals last year was to compete in every game and in my first year that was definitely not the case. Last year, we had one bad game that got away from us, but this year we are where we want to be.”

A tough early season schedule will help as well.

“Chaska isn’t a bad team [and] we play Proctor and Como Park; some of our tougher matchups are early and I like to be challenged right away,” McDonnell said. “We want to be better in our [Two Rivers] conference too, which is the reason you have a conference. We want to be tested early so when we make the playoff push we know who works well where, and with whom.”

“We won’t have games where we’re thinking it won’t be close or we’ll need to be defensive to keep the score down,” McDonnell added. “We should be in every game, and if we play well, who knows. We are getting there.”