The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys hockey team boasts a 14-2-0 record entering Tuesday’s game against Orono, which occured after the Independent Review went to press.
When asked how this 16-game stretch compares to other in his 13-year tenure, L/D-C head coach Chris Olson didn’t take long to answer.
“This is the best start I’ve ever had,” Olson said.
As the wins have piled up, Olson has seen an uptick in the Dragons’ play — all while remaining grounded in their season expectations.
“You start winning and it starts being contagious,” Olson said. “I think we’ve done a good job of keeping things in perspective: we play for today, and when today’s done we look at tomorrow.”
Through their first 16 games, the Dragons have featured an enviable combination of attacking power and defensive solidity: L/D-C has scored an average of 7.69 goals per game and allowed only 1.88 goals per game.
“Scoring a lot of goals and keeping them out is obviously a pretty good formula,” Olson said with a laugh.
Senior forwards Jared Pedersen and David Raisanen have led the offensive attack all season: Pedersen has accumulated 52 points and Raisanen has added 48, good for third and tied for fifth in the state, respectively, according to MN Hockey Hub.
Olson attributes much of the team’s success to L/D-C’s senior class of Pedersen, Raisanen, Ben Haugo, Killian Keaveny, Paul Janckila, Bailey Emery, Carson Deal, Jake Jones, Dylan Lemke, Holton Miller and Dom Baalson, who provide plenty of experience they can share with their younger teammates.
“I think we’ve got a ton of veteran leadership, a ton of senior leadership in the locker room and on the bench,” he said.
Deep and dangerous
The Dragons boast not only a deep corps of seniors and veterans but a deep team overall, with multiple lines that can hang tough with most opponents and fill in the gaps when a teammate suffers an injury.
“One of the things that’s great about these guys, is we’ve had a couple guys get hurt and have moved a couple guys in and out of the lineup and we’re just able to pick up where we’ve left off with whoever’s in the lineup,” Olson said.
Olson mentioned the Dragons’ 9-4 win over Waconia on Jan. 14 as an example of the team’s depth and talent, from top to bottom.
“We’ve got three lines that can go,” Olson said. “Waconia has a pretty solid first line, and our third line not only handled them but took it to them at times.”
The Dragons’ depth is reflected in the team’s stat sheet, which features Jared Pedersen and David Raisanen at the top but a number of other Dragons with impressive numbers: six other L/D-C skaters boast points in the double digits, led by Casey Peterson, with 32, Ben Haugo, with 25, Luke Benson, with 22, and Brandt Pedersen, with 20.
L/D-C’s unselfishness was evident in the Dragons’ 10-0 win Saturday over Morris/Benson Area.
Eight different Dragons scored in the game, and the second period was particularly impressive, as L/D-C out-shot M/BA 36-1 in the 17-minute spell after a first period where Olson said the boys “didn’t share the puck that well.”
It’s key for the Dragons to retain that unselfishness they showed in the middle period Saturday and to not worry about who’s scoring the goals, Olson said.
“And if they do start caring about that, that’s when you don’t win games,” he said.
Lopsided wins like the victory over Morris/Benson Area — of which there have been several, including six wins by double-digit goals — allow Olson to give ice time to numerous players, which will only help the team as they barrel toward playoffs.
“Especially late in the season, even in some of our blowout wins, we’ve had a lot of other guys get a lot of ice time,” Olson said. “Even though a lot of other guys would call it ‘mop-up time,’ those guys are still getting valuable, game-situation ice time.”
L/D-C has two massive games this week that will serve as a marker for the team’s progress and odds going forward: the Dragons traveled to Orono on Tuesday after the Independent Review went to press to face the Spartans, who have given L/D-C one of their two losses of the season thus far.
Orono is ranked 15th in Class A, according to the most recent Let’s Play Hockey poll.
The Dragons’ only other loss has come to Luverne, who are No. 13 in Class A and also in L/D-C’s section.
On Friday, the Dragons will host Delano/Rockford, who are ranked No. 6 and have beaten state-ranked Blake and St. Cloud Cathedral.
The two conference games will be a tough test for the Dragons, and Olson knows that his team must play strong, even-keeled hockey to make a good showing against their Wright County Conference rivals.
“If we don’t play disciplined hockey and don’t have good, solid position,” he said, “we’ll get ourselves into big trouble.”
Olson said that his team’s energy and depth will be the Dragons’ best bet at two good results against the strong, state-ranked sides.
“I think we can out-work a lot of teams,” he said. “If we do those things well, we can put a lot of pressure on teams.”
Despite the best start of any season under his watch, Olson knows that L/D-C must play with intensity to prove itself against stiff competition.
“We’re the underdogs,” he said, “and if we put the pressure on them that’s when they start to grip the stick a little tighter.”