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Hockey: NorthStar Knights preach progress after playing their first-ever games

Alexandria's Jakob Stender positions himself in front of the net during a Gentry Academy power play on Sunday afternoon at the NorthStar Sports Complex as the new academy team in Alexandria played its first-ever game at home. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)1 / 7
NorthStar Academy forward Jackson Vercellono fires a shot on goal during Sunday's home opener for the Knights. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 7
NorthStar Academy forward Kayle Bocken (14) fights for position during Sunday's home opener. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)3 / 7
Alexandria's Truett Olson races to a loose puck along the boards at the NorthStar Sports Complex on Sunday afternoon. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)4 / 7
NorthStar Knights goalie Camdyn Barber gets in position to make a glove save. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)5 / 7
NorthStar Academy forward Ben Strinden leads his teammates back to their bench after scoring the Knights' first goal on Sunday afternoon. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)6 / 7
North Star Academy forward Jens Richards races down the ice as a breakaway during the second period on Sunday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)7 / 7

It was a weekend of new beginnings for the NorthStar Christian Academy in Alexandria as the Knights hockey team played their first-ever games, including Sunday’s home opener at the academy’s sports complex.

Fans lined the railing on the upper level and a good portion of the boards near the ice. They watched an evenly-played game for much of the day, but one that saw the U15 AAA Gentry Academy team come away with a 5-3 win. It was part of a two-game sweep by Gentry Academy after an 11-5 win Saturday on its home ice in Vadnais Heights.

“We’ve been together now for two weeks. I learned first and foremost that we have great men. We have men who love the Lord and they’re men of character,” NorthStar Academy head coach John Olver said about the opening weekend. “They really are motivated to be the best men they can be and the best hockey players they can be. They’re focused, and their work ethic in practice has been phenomenal. With that said, we have a lot of work to do as far as teaching them how to play the game of hockey.”

Olver said he saw big improvements from game one to game two. Gentry Academy got the first two goals from Connor Kurth and Andrew Mosely on Sunday to make it 2-0 through one period. Mosely’s goal came with four seconds left on a power play.

The Knights struggled to stay out of the penalty box, and it cost them. Ben Strinden scored NorthStar’s first goal as he punched in a rebound midway through the second period, but Gentry responded with another power-play goal, this one from Chaz Lucius to make it 3-1. Chaz and his younger brother, Cruz, already gave verbal commitments to the University of Minnesota last year at the ages of 14 and 13, respectively.

“Special teams were the difference tonight,” Olver said. “The majority of their goals were on the power play. They really outplayed us badly on special teams. Five-on-five we played them pretty even today. Special teams are an area that we can definitely improve on, and we will.”

The Knights got to within one just 16 seconds into the third period when defenseman Luke Anderson buried a puck to make it 3-2. The two teams then exchanged goals almost 30 seconds apart as Bailey McGraw scored for Gentry and Anderson added his second of the game for NorthStar as he connected on a shot from the point.

“He’s a leader,” Olver said of Anderson. “He’s really motivated, and he’s really assertive on the ice. I thought he had a terrific game last night and an even better game today.”

It stayed a one-goal game late into the third period, but Gentry Academy’s Jack Harvey put things away on a goal with 3:37 left.

“I think we learned that we’re capable of anything,” NorthStar’s Jakob Stender said. “We have a long way to go, but we made a huge step from last night to today. We stuck with them today.”

Stender and Truett Olson are the two Alexandria natives on this team. Both are playing on the blue line this season after Stender made the switch to defense. He was a freshman forward for AAHS last year who showed a knack for putting the puck in the net, so the move to defense is one that will take time.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Stender said. “I got a lot of work to do on D. I need to be aware of who’s around me, where to move it, all of that.”

Progress is the name of the game for many of the players during the Knights’ inaugural season. They want to win hockey games, but they believe success this season will be measured by more than what happens on the ice.

“It’s progression. It’s more than just hockey,” Olson said. “We’re trying to grow as people in faith and God, and just being a better teammate.”

The two teams gathered at center ice for a prayer after the game. The Knights’ captain also handed out an award to Gentry Academy’s Chaz Lucius as a player from the opposing team whose sportsmanship stood out throughout the weekend.

After months of preparing, those involved with NorthStar Academy were excited to start a new era on the ice.

“It was great. A lot of people in this community have done a lot of work to get this going,” Olver said. “We feel a responsibility to those people and this community that we represent ourselves the right way. I can tell you on that end, I could not have been happier with the way our team conducted themselves. We’re here for a bigger purpose than just winning hockey games.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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