Boys hockey: WDC shuts out MBA, Wolverines ready to make the most of a much anticipated season
The Wadena-deer Creek boys hockey team avenged its Section 6A tournament loss from a year ago with a 6-0 win over Morris Benson Area. Head coach Scott Woods hopes it's one of many for the Wolverines in a season filled with promise.
WADENA – Tuesday's Wadena-Deer Creek boys hockey home opener was a chance to make an early-season statement.
The Wolverines (2-1-0) dominated Morris-Benson Area (1-2-0) to the tune of a 6-0 shutout, avenging a 5-4 Section 6A quarterfinal playoff loss from a year ago.
"This is a team we lost to in the playoffs," WDC head coach Scott Woods said. "We beat them twice, but then we lost to them when it mattered. It was a tough way to end the season. I think the kids were up for this one a little more, knowing it was a so-called revenge game. They played hard, and they played really well."
Seniors Cole Woods, Connor Davis and Aron Sutherland form WDC's top line. It's a unit that totaled 121 points during the 2021-22 season. They combined for 56 goals and 65 assists, which made up more than half of the team's total scoring.
The trio is off to a similar start this season. In just three games, Cole Woods, Davis and Sutherland have 25 of the Wolverines' 42 points.
"What's fun is it can come from any of them on a given night," Scott Woods said. "Aron Sutherland has started on fire. Last year, Cole and Conner were scoring the goals, and Aron was picking up the assists. He led our team in assists last year. For all three of them to have that confidence with the puck on their stick is huge. All three of them have learned that a point is a point, and it doesn't matter who gets the goal as long as we win the game. It's nice to see how they've figured that out."
Sutherland is one of the state's top scorers. His eight goals in three games are tied for second statewide, trailing only Tyler Hennen of Kittson County Central. He also ranked third in the state in points with 12, while Cole Woods is third in assists with seven.
On Tuesday night, the top line combined for nine points. Davis started the scoring with assists from Cole Woods and Sutherland. Evan Lunde doubled the lead with a power-play goal midway through the first period before Sutherland gave the Wolverines a 3-0 lead. Cole Woods assisted on the first three goals of the night before scoring a power-play goal to start the second period.
Scott Woods believes his top unit can compete with anybody in the section. However, if he can spread the wealth without losing offensive production, it could solidify WDC's contender status in a balanced section.
"Our top line played together all of last year," Woods said. "We wanted to see if there were ways we could experiment and tinker with the lines to see if there were going to be other options. We did that in our (preseason) scrimmages, and one of them got hurt. We never got to tinker like we wanted to. Now we're into the season, so our chances to do that are limited, but we got some scoring from other lines tonight. Hopefully, we can keep that up."
The Wolverines got secondary scoring on Tuesday. Jaeger Pettit added a pair of goals, making life easy for senior goaltender Gunner Olson. Woods called Tuesday's defensive effort "impressive" after Olson's 24-save shutout.
"He's very good fundamentally, but at times he tends to get backed in," Woods said of Olson. "I don't blame him because if you don't have guys protecting the outside, that's what goalies tend to do. Shots should come from outside the dots. If he can take that step out, there's nothing to shoot at. He's over six feet tall. He did a great job tonight. It might be the best game I've seen him play. A lot of credit goes to the defenseman for forcing those shots to come from the outside. We tightened up our penalty kill as well, and all of them did a great job."
The time is now
Woods was candid about the 2022-23 season being much anticipated for a long time. After watching this senior class grow up through youth hockey and ooze potential, the time feels right for WDC to set its sights on a memorable season.
"It's one of those things where we've waited and waited and waited for this year," Woods said. "We had a really nice team last year. The seniors we lost were great. They didn't necessarily put up a lot of points, but their role was to grind it out and work hard. We don't really have that kind of line, but we have a group of younger kids that are maybe going to be a little more offensive."
In the summer of 2021, the Minnesota State High School League shuffled teams in a section realignment. It pushed St. Cloud Cathedral, Little Falls and Sartell-St. Stephen out of Section 6A, leaving a void of consistent contenders.
Last year, Alexandria and Fergus Falls were head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. While the Cardinals still feel like the odds on favorite, the second spot in the section title game is ripe for the taking.
"I think it's up for grabs," Woods said. "We'd like to play Alex. We requested to play them again, and I get why they said no. I get it. I coached there before I coached here. It's hard because you want to play the best teams you can, and that's a program that a lot of teams want to play. I would like to see them play a few more section games. Over the years, when Little Falls was dominating, they played everybody in the section and filled the rest of their schedule with tougher teams. But we feel like we're right in the mix. Fergus has taken a little bit of a step back. Northern Lakes lost some guys, but they also brought up some good bantams. We were right there with them last year, and we returned more than most teams this year. We're right there in the mix, and we'd love to get that chance."
Last February's quarterfinal loss still stings for the players and the coaching staff. Missing out on a chance to play at The MAC in St. Cloud was a missed opportunity.
"Last year was really hard to swallow because getting that experience of playing in the semifinal would've been really big for this group," Woods said. "We've got a good coaching staff, and we've coached in many of those semifinal and final games. We know the feeling, but the kids don't. It's an incredible atmosphere."
Woods isn't concerned with his team's talent level to make a deep run in the section tournament. However, he needs his seniors to stay even-keeled in emotional moments.
"We've gotten much better about it, but there are times where it's gotten tense, and we aren't as disciplined as we need to be," Woods said. "It's nothing terrible, but it's a double-edged sword. I love this group because they're super competitive, much like the coaches. We know what comes with that. The parents know that. The trade-off is they can get a little heated. Maybe they bark at officials. It's things we aren't OK with, but we know it comes with being competitive. You can have a group of kids who are just happy to be here, and that can be fun, but they aren't going to win many games. These kids aren't just happy to be here. They're here to win."