Well folks, this is a story about five words.
There are 15 letters in the five words, and if you look at the words individually they are pretty boring.
But if you put them together in the correct order they make a phrase that means the world.
“We made it to state” is the phrase and if you ask the Northern Lakes Lightning hockey team and their fans, they would tell you that it just might be the most important five words to come out of their mouth in a long, long time.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, many teams have gone to state in many sports over the years and some have done really well and some have lost and been eliminated in the first round.
That was the reality last week for the Lightning as they lost their opening game to Gentry Academy 8-0. People will talk for years about the Stars and how they are a private school – and whether it is fair or not as far as how they run their school and other factors.
When you talk to the Lightning players, it is pretty much a different story. Senior goaltender Jeremiah Smythe may have said it best.
“We were so happy to get to the tourney and yes, they were very good, but my favorite part of the experience was being with a great group of guys and accomplishing something that had never been done before,” he said.
Many of the players echoed that thought and most had other highlights of this past season having nothing to do with Gentry. Senior Caiden Kjelstrom was one of them.
“My biggest moment was beating Monticello and throwing the gloves and celebrating with my great teammates and coaches,” said Kjelstrom.
This year, the tourney could not offer any consolation rounds and you might think that would be a disappointment to the Lightning. Not so much according to senior Jake Ince.
“I think it was a sweet way to end the season,” Ince said. “I don’t think anybody wanted to come back down for a consolation round. We have all those great memories and playing in the state tournament was a culmination of a great season.”
Owen Miller, who played his final high school game in the loss to Gentry, loved playing with this special group.
“Beating Monticello was great but my biggest enjoyment this season was being with a great group of guys, playing with kids from different schools and making new friends from other towns,” Miller said.
Adler Hoagland had a tremendous year in goal for Northern Lakes, and he had his hands full against Gentry, but relished the experience.
“They were very good and they were all over the ice, best team we played no doubt,” he said. “My favorite moment of the season was beating Little Falls for the first time. I had a great night in goal and I think that win might have tipped our season.”
The season was pretty exciting for his biggest fan as well – that being his Mom, Jennifer Clemons Hoagland.
“It’s a different deal being the mom of the goalie,” she said. “I always know he is the last defense for the team and that is a little stressful for me. They had such a great season so it wasn’t quite as bad but I know that if he has a good night or a bad night he is definitely noticed. Speaking for all the hockey moms, we had a very exciting year.”
Sophomore Zach Ehnstrom will return next season but he sure enjoyed this year and being at the Xcel.
“It was really overwhelming for me, exciting of course and playing with such a great group of guys,” Ehnstrom said. “Celebrating in the locker room after the Monticello game was the best. It’s sad to say goodbye to all our seniors but they treated me so well and we won’t ever forget this season.”
Coach Craig Larson, who finished his eighth year at the helm, knows this team was something special.
“They were like a family and treated each other so well,” Larson said. “They played hard every game and did everything we asked them to do. They deserve all the success they had. They never quit even when the game was no longer in doubt against Gentry.”
The 2021 Northern Lakes Lightning, MSHSL Section 5A champions and state tournament participant – it has a pretty good ring to it, but the five words that will live forever for this team and their fans are without question.
“We made it to State.” It doesn’t get any better than that!