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Joe McDonnell

Head Coach

Section: 5A
Conference: Two Rivers
Enrollment: 750
Nickname: Rebels
Colors: Red, Blue, Gray
Assistant Coaches: Dusty Wilson, Russ Bohaty, Pete Steen, Brad Hubred
Managers Spencer Lower, Triston Richardson, Danny Lilya
Home Ice: Riverside Arena, Moose Lake
State Tournament Appearances: None
State Titles: None
2014-15 Record: 8-18

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Moose Lake/Willow River’s Bryceton Butkiewicz (8) takes a pass from Nick Wegge (9) and puts the puck past Ashland goaltender Brandon Hudson during the first period of Tuesday’s game at the BACC.


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Moose Lake hockey lives on

By Tim Kolehmainen Let's Play Hockey 02/11/2016, 2:30pm CST

Moose Lake Area boys’ varsity coach Joe McDonnell vividly remembers his introduction to Bryceton Butkiewicz.


Three years ago, the freshman proudly proclaimed to his new coach that he was going to score 25 goals for the Rebels’ varsity team, even though he was still eligible for Bantam hockey. McDonnell wasn’t so sure, but the youngster was undeterred, making a wild bet with his coach. If he won? Butkiewicz would get to ride atop a recycling bin down the stairs at the school, breaking not only the rules but quite likely a few bones along the way. If he lost? Somehow that never came up for discussion. Butkiewicz scored in his very first varsity game against Mora and kept it up all year, tallying 26 goals and 45 points to lead the Rebels in both categories.

To say Butkiewicz was plenty confident when he first joined the varsity lineup is an understatement. He backed up his words, however. “I wouldn’t say I was confident, but I just wanted to come in with my great teammates and see what I can do,” countered Butkiewicz. What he didn’t do was careen down those stairs on top of a recycling bin. “Thankfully he didn’t do it,” laughed McDonnell. It’s a good thing, for we may not have been treated to the outstanding career that has followed.

Three years later, the junior is more cautious about his bets, but he’s also the newly-minted program leader in career goals. Butkiewicz surpassed Josh Cisar’s 98 career goals and tied Tyler Cisar’s school record of 99 with four goals in a 10-4 victory over Ely on Jan. 23, then endured a rare three-game scoreless streak until netting a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Becker/Big Lake on Feb. 9.

“It’s nothing I could ever have imagined or dreamed of,” said Butkiewicz, who got his record-setting 100th on his first shift – and shot – of the night. “A very big load was released,” admitted Butkiewicz. “I got to the bench and took a deep breath. It was a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”

The Cisar brothers both left the program after a 2011-12 season in which Moose Lake Area won 12 games, including a playoff rout of Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson in the Section 5A first round. Josh was a graduating senior, while Tyler departed a year early for junior hockey in Aberdeen.

“They were the dominant force and the ones that got all the records,” said McDonnell. “(But) they left and well, hockey kind of fell apart in Moose Lake.” In the first post-Cisar season, the Rebels were on life support. With only nine players out for the varsity that winter, head coach Trevor Howe had to reach out to the team managers and anyone else loosely affiliated with the program to field a team. McDonnell was a first-year assistant for that team, and then took over the head coaching position the following year. “That was a tough year,” said McDonnell. “We lost every game and they weren’t even close. It would have been easy for them to quit, but they didn’t.” The Rebels went 0-25-0 and forfeited their first round playoff game. During the year, the team scored just 16 goals and allowed 253. It wasn’t pretty, but the Rebels held on to their program. “I sat down with the AD and we talked about (the future),” said McDonnell. “We knew it would take a few years before anything could happen.”

Boys’ varsity head coach Joe McDonnell has overseen a resurgence of hockey in the Moose Lake area. McDonnell grew up playing hockey on the Lower Chester outdoor rink in Duluth, spending untold hours in the frigid northwoods winters. He remembers trying to warm aching toes once he walked home from the rink. “It was probably borderline frostbite, they hurt so much, but that’s what we did,” said McDonnell, whose family was all hockey crazy. His brother also played, his mother helped out in the concession stand and his father ran the Zamboni.


McDonnell now teaches health and PE in Moose Lake, from the elementary level all the way up through high school. His love of hockey has suited him, as he’s tried to instill that excitement of the game in youngsters from the five co-operative schools (Moose Lake, East Central, Willow River, Barnum and Cromwell). “One of big things I wanted to do is create an atmosphere of working hard on hockey skills, but also having a lot of fun doing it,” said McDonnell, who has his varsity players skate with the youth teams during practice, as well as open hockey and on the outdoor rinks.

“We know we’re from a smaller town and we may struggle to compete with a lot of schools because we don’t have the numbers right now, but we want the kids to enjoy the game. They talk, and if they’re having fun, eventually you’ll get enough kids who want to play, too.”

The Moose Lake association also has “Junior Rebel” nights where youth players are announced with the starters during the varsity game, as well as mini-games between periods. They’ve taken kids on hockey trips to the University of Minnesota Duluth – all in an effort to generate excitement for hockey and the program.

Three years later, the wins are still tough to come by, but the number of participants is up. This winter, McDonnell had 28 players out to begin the year, which has allowed the Rebels to field a JV team as well. “We’re back on the right track where kids are getting more interested in hockey,” said McDonnell, who noted the resurgence of the Greenway program and the rise of Luverne as models for what he’d like Moose Lake to become. “The thing that has really put them both over the top is success,” continued McDonnell. “Nothing gets people interested like success. Greenway is doing that right now (20-4-0 and ranked in Class 1A) and that will do a ton for their team. “Richfield (which just folded its program this winter) didn’t have that. Their average class size is bigger than our entire school, but they had to fold their program. That’s always looming out there.”

McDonnell admits that it also helps to have a signature player like Butkiewicz, who is a recognizable face to the youngsters in town. While he’s had plenty of offers to leave school early for greener pastures, the four-sport athlete has chosen to remain at his hometown school.

“He’s had the right people in his year telling him not to rush things,” said McDonnell, who noted that Butkiewicz has been speaking with the same hockey agency that advises former Virginia star Matt Niskanen, who is in his 10th NHL season and stayed through his senior year of high school. “So many kids who leave early sacrifice the simple experiences of high school,” continued McDonnell, ticking off events like football season, homecoming and even just intramural sports with friends. “You miss out on all that and take a big chance that hopefully something will work out. There’s no clock on success. If you leave early and aren’t successful, you lose your chance at all that.”

“I wouldn’t trade the high school experience for anything,” agreed Butkiewicz. After scoring 47 goals and 72 points as a sophomore, defenses have focused more on Butkiewicz this winter. With two regular season games remaining, he has 29 goals and 49 points. But the rest of the team has stepped up, which is an indication of the rise of the program, pleasing McDonnell.

“In the past if we had a guy like Bryceton out, we would have been in trouble,” said McDonnell. “But we’ve become more of a team in the last few years.” “We’ve turned it around now,” said Butkiewicz, who helped lead the Rebels to regionals as a second-year Bantam with many of his current teammates.

“This group of kids that I’ve been playing with knew things were shaky (at the varsity level), but we also knew we had to step up and play the best we could.” Defensively, rugged junior Wyatt Lampel anchors the Rebels. The 6-3, 210-pound bruiser picked up the game late, according to McDonnell, but has become one of the team’s leaders. He has good athleticism and a shot that has given him seven total goals the last two years. In goal, junior Logan McNulty has started every game for the past two seasons, giving the Rebels a veteran presence. He won eight games as a sophomore, and has followed it up with five more wins this winter, albeit with even better peripheral numbers (.855 save percentage and 5.12 goals against). In Butkiewicz’s record-setting game, McNulty also earned his first career shutout.

Up front, besides Butkiewicz, four other forwards have at least four goals and nine points this year, led by senior Devin Murphy’s 10 goals and 23 points. Murphy also had a big game against Ely on Jan. 23, recording two goals and five points. Junior Nick Wegge (7-12--19), and seniors Alex Erickson (5-5--10) and Richie Parzy (4-5--9) are also dangerous.

“It’s always great winning hockey games, but if you ask any team, you’re never really satisfied,” said Butkiewicz. “You always want to get better. We’re happy with where we’re at now, but we can always go up from here.”

Photos: Tim Kolehmainen

Moose Lake/Willow River’s Bryceton Butkiewicz (8) takes a pass from Nick Wegge (9) and puts the puck past Ashland goaltender Brandon Hudson during the first period of Tuesday’s game at the BACC.

Opportunistic Rebels edge Oredockers

By Garett Greenwald Ashland Daily Press 01/20/2016, 5:00pm CST

Opportunistic Rebels edge Oredockers By GARETT GREENWALD/ Sports Editor 17 hrs ago 0 Go-Ahead Goal Garett Greenwald/Staff Photo Moose Lake/Willow River’s Bryceton Butkiewicz (8) takes a pass from Nick Wegge (9) and puts the puck past Ashland goaltender Brandon Hudson during the first period of Tuesday’s game at the BACC. Check out the 11-picture photo gallery from this game at www.ashlandwi.com. The Ashland Oredockers continued to play quality hockey Tuesday night, but the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels took advantage of their chances to pull out a 4-2 victory at the BACC. The Rebels (4-13-1) scored a pair of goals 36 seconds apart late in the first period to erase a 1-0 deficit and take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. “This was probably one of the better games we’ve played in a long time,” said Ashland coach Darryl Penner. “We just had two bad minutes. I told the guys you can play well for 49 of the 51 minutes and lose. We made mistakes, and they capitalized on them.” The Oredockers (8-7) dominated the first 14 minutes of the game. Matt Gregor pounced on a Rebel turnover and fired a shot that Rebel goaltender Logan McNulty saved. But Jake Moe was there for the rebound to give Ashland a 1-0 lead 5:41 into the game. Bryceton Butkiewicz got Moose Lake/Willow River back to even when he controlled a loose puck in the Ashland end and beat Brandon Hudson with 1:26 remaining in the first period. Nick Wegge got the assist. That duo struck again 36 seconds later as a 2-on-1 developed in front of Hudson, and Wegge slid a pass over to Butkiewicz in the slot, and Butkiewicz delivered to give the Rebels a 2-1 lead after one period. Following a scoreless second period, the Rebels took a two-goal lead 9:45 into the third period. Devon Bonkoski initially fanned on a shot from the high slot, but that bought him enough time to regain control of the puck away from traffic, and he fired a high shot past Hudson to make it 3-1. The Oredockers went on the power play shortly after the goal. Neal Benson, the school’s all-time leading goal scorer, skated in on a tough angle and beat McNulty for an unassisted goal with 5:29 remaining. Ashland took a penalty with 2:07 remaining, and Penner used the team’s timeout with 1:27 left. The Rebels were content to move the puck around the Ashland zone and burn clock. The Oredockers were finally able to pull Hudson for an extra attacker with 36.0 remaining, but the puck never got deep into the Rebel zone. Devin Murphy wristed home an empty-netter from just outside the blue line to make it 4-2 with 22.6 ticks left on the clock. “I felt we had the momentum when we cut it to one,” Penner said. “But we took an untimely penalty, and that took the momentum away. I felt we had a chance to tie it, but we didn’t get many chances. “It was a good hockey game. We just came out on the short end tonight.” McNulty finished with 26 saves, and Hudson had 20. Ashland’s homestand continues Saturday when the Northwest Icemen come to the BACC at 7 p.m. The Oredockers won the earlier meeting 6-4. Moose Lake/Willow River 4, Ashland 2 Moose Lake/Willow River 2 0 2 — 4 Ashland 1 0 1 — 2 First Period: Ashland, Moe (Gregor) 5:41; 2. Moose Lake/Willow River, Butkiewicz (Wegge) 15:34; 3. Moose Lake/Willow River, Butkiewicz (Wegge) 16:10.1. Second Period: No scoring. Third Period: 4. Moose Lake/Willow River, Bonkoski (unassisted) 9:45; 5. Ashland, Benson (unassisted) 11:31, pp; 6. Moose Lake/Willow River, Murphy (unassisted), 16:37.4, pp, en. Saves: Moose Lake/Willow River, McNulty 11-3-12—26; Ashland, Hudson 4-8-9—20. Penalties: Moose Lake/Willow River 6 for 12 mins; Ashland 4-8. Power Plays: Moose Lake/Willow River 1 for 4; Ashland 1-6

Rebel boys avoid shut-out by Blizzard

By Al Rose Star Gazette 01/18/2016, 11:00am CST

Rebels boys avoid shut-out by Blizzard January 14, 2016 | Volume 129, Number 2 The Moose Lake Area Rebels boys hockey team lost 5-1 to the Burnett County Blizzard in Moose Lake on Tuesday, January 5. Pictured, MLA Rebel Nick Wegge takes a shot from the outside. The Rebel boys hockey team avoided a shut out as they lost 5-1 to the Burnett County Blizzard in Moose Lake on Tuesday, January 5. MLA did out-shoot the Blizzard 39-28, but Logan McNulty took the loss in goal. The Rebels went 0-6 on the power play while the Blizzard went 0-3. Bryceton Butkiewicz scored an unassisted even strength goal at 13:48 of the second period.

Moose Lake Area boys win at North Shore

By Jeff Papas Pine Journal 01/02/2016, 10:00am CST


The Moose Lake Area boys hockey team won its first game of the season at the North Shore Tournament on Tuesday, defeating Ely 5-2 — and snapping a vexing nine-game losing streak that started its season.

“We played a full game,” coach Joe McDonnell said. “Every period we played well and consistently. One of the things we’ve been struggling with is where we lose a handle on how we want to play.”

The Rebels built a 5-0 lead on the Timberwolves at Lake County Arena in Two Harbors before allowing two late goals. But by then the damage had been done.

Five different goal scorers — Devin Murphy, Richie Parzy, Bryceton Butkiewicz, Cody Anderson and Alex Erickson — all found the range against Ely goaltender Mark Killoran by the 5:04 mark of the third period, before Andy Krunkkala and Gage Merhar closed out the scoring for the Timberwolves.

Logan McNulty stopped 23 of 25 shots in goal for the win, but McDonnell was very happy with how his team performed.

“It’s great for confidence,” he said. “It was a winnable game, and we played well and won it.”

That wasn’t always the case during the team’s losing streak to start the season, when McDonnell said the team would lose its focus at critical moments.

“We lost some close games where we lost a handle on how we want to play,” he said. “We were getting frustrated and we had a chance to win Saturday (a 4-1 Two Rivers Conference loss to St. Paul Highland Park) and we got in penalty trouble. You have to earn your wins.”

The Rebels skated shorthanded seven times in that game.

“We played North Shore and we were down 5-4 after two periods and in the third we gave up four goals (in a 9-5 loss),” McDonnell said. “When you play a decent team, when you give them chances, they will score. We started to run around and lose our head. We were easy to beat at that time if teams stayed patient because we’d freak out and give up goals in bunches.”

McDonnell hopes Tuesday’s win will stop the slide, along with a new attitude in practice.

“It isn’t that we don’t practice hard, but we rededicated ourselves to work and lots of skating,” he said. “If we’re going to lose it won’t be because we are tired or we aren’t working hard. We want to make better decisions, and take fewer risks with a lead. We have guys like Bryceton who can score. We can get goals. We just need that defensive mentality and win 1-0 instead of 7-5. It’s a matter of learning how to win.

“The kids responded really well,” he added. “We want to play our game and this win shows the guys that it’s possible.” The Rebels will face Mora or Red Lake Falls in their final tournament game Wednesday afternoon as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press

Rebel boys fight but fall to Scots

By Moose Lake Star Gazette 12/11/2015, 5:15pm CST

Rebels boys fight but fall to Scots December 10, 2015 | Volume 128, Number 50 Moose Lake Area Hockey Moose Lake Area's Hunter Lake makes the tying goal for the Rebels. The Moose Lake Area Rebels boys varsity hockey team lost to the St. Paul Highland Park Scots 3-2 at Riverside Arena in Moose Lake on Saturday, December 5. There was no scoring until later in the first period when the Scots had two power play goals within nine seconds. The goals at 15:17 and 15:26 gave the Scots a 2-0 lead, which they took into the second period. At 5:40 in the second, the Rebels found the net with Devin Murphy scoring with an assist from Alex Erickson. The game stayed at 2-1 in favor of the Scots ending the second period. In period three Hunter Lake found the 5 hole with an assist from Murphy at 9:57 tying the score 2-2. About a minute and a half later, the Scots scored the game winning goal at 11:26. Rebels goalie Logan McNulty faced 27 shotsand had 24 saves.