Shortly after the Northstar Christian Academy 18U hockey team came back from a showcase in St. Louis, Mo., the Knights were the second-ranked North American Prep Hockey League team in the country. But after a two-week layoff and a disappointing loss on Sunday, Northstar is going back to the drawing board in hopes of regaining consistency.
The Knights went 2-1 this past weekend over eighth-ranked CarShield out of St. Louis but saw its high-powered offense disappear in Sunday’s chance for a sweep. The Knights fell 1-0.
“It’s a three-game series, and we beat them by quite a bit the last two games,” forward Joe Westlund said. “They came out ready to go, and we didn’t respect our opponent. They brought it today, and they outworked us. They just wanted it more.”
Hunter Parker scored the lone goal of the afternoon early in the section period, but Northstar goaltender Chris Brown stole the show. He made 44 saves to keep the Knights within reach.
“Chris had to make a lot of saves just to keep the score 1-0,” head coach John Olver said. “I think the case of this game was their team and their will to work. Anytime you outscore a team 15-2 in two games, you lose your mental intensity...I thought we were very complacent and lacked urgency.”
The Knights had beaten CarShield 9-2 and 6-0 in the first two games of the home series. Reese Laubach led the way with two goals and an assist on Friday night, while Hayden Helgeson tallied a goal and two assists. Brown made 19 saves in the game-one win.
Laubach had another big game on Saturday with two more goals and an assist for a six-point weekend. Cody Coral, Dylan Cook and Jacob Napier each had a goal and a helper, while Logan Verpoort notched a 16-save shutout.
“It’s tough to beat a team like this three times in one weekend,” Westlund said. “Coach was talking about how the hardest part is winning the last one because you’re mentally and physically tired, especially after you beat a pretty bad team the first few times. We have to get back to work in practice, so we don’t have games like this.”
Knights look to build off early success
Through its first two seasons, the 18U Knights surpassed their expectations. After being promoted to the highest level of prep hockey early last season and proving they can win at the highest level, Northstar is looking to replicate the play that earned them their reputation.
At 14-1 on the season, the Knights looked to have reloaded after losing several players to the junior-hockey level from last year.
“We had a lot of success last year,” Olver said. “More importantly, a lot of our players that had that success are now playing at the next level, and they’re having success. I think people are seeing the success of our program and the development of our players. They understand that Northstar has a lot more development than just hockey. It’s the spiritual development and the academic achievement that separates us.”
For Olver, it’s not as much about recruiting the best players, but instead picking the right ones.
“It’s becoming attractive to players across the country,” Olver said of playing for the Knights. “It’s not so much about recruiting players, but it’s more of a selection process. We need to find kids that are the right fit for our program.”
Westlund adjusting to the switch
Olver knew he was getting a talented player when Westlund decided to transfer to Northstar for his senior season from Alexandria Area High School.
On Sunday, Westlund centered the top line and made his presence known in all areas of the ice. However, the switch from Section 6A to the NAPHL is a learning process.
“I feel I get a lot more reps,” Westlund said. “It’s a lot more physical, and it’s more of a grind. In high school, it’s one or two lines that dominate the game. Here we have all four lines going. I was looking for a change in my life. The religious part about this program brings the team closer. I’m learning a lot about myself, and I love it.”
Westlund not only thinks highly of his teammates but also his new coaching staff.
“Coach is tough on us, but he also builds really good relationships with us,” Westlund said. “He wants us to be better men, husbands and fathers one day, then good hockey players. He says if we are good men, we will become better hockey players. I wasn’t nervous coming into this year at all. I was really excited to get the season started and ready to make those new relationships.”
Northstar didn’t go out of its way to get Westlund to transfer, but when Olver saw he was interested, he knew what kind of player he’d be adding to his locker room.
“Joe is a very high-character player,” Olver said. “He’s the type of player that every coach loves. He has a tremendous work ethic, great attitude, great teammate and he does a lot of the dirty work that a lot of guys tend to shy away from sometimes.”
With 13 games under his belt, Westlund looks forward to each day at Northstar.
“I love it here,” Westlund said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and everybody is so unselfish. It’s all about the team, and that’s the atmosphere I want to play in.”