It's been two years since the Alexandria boys hockey team has won a Section 6A championship. Senior Chris Loken felt the frustrating feeling of defeat in 2020 but is hoping he can be the difference in getting over the hump this time around.
The last time Loken put on an Alexandria jersey, his night ended prematurely at the hands of a loaded St. Cloud Cathedral team. He gave up six goals in under two periods in the 8-1 loss in the section title game. The feeling of defeat has pushed him to take his game to the next level.
"I want redemption for that game," Loken said. "I let in six goals before I was pulled, which isn't ideal. It's lit a fire under me. It's about having the will to compete to get back to that spot again. (Cathedral) is always a fantastic team to play against, but I want another shot."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn't easy to find ice time in the summer. Loken focused on what he could do at home off the ice to improve.
"I've always been really bad at stretching and maintaining my flexibility," Loken said. "I did a lot of stuff with hand-eye coordination and strength training. Between work and exercising, I got some ice time with some friends before the shutdown happened. It was taking what I could get at the time."
Alexandria players often find ice time with the Alexandria Blizzard in the offseason. Loken got the chance to skate at the NA3HL team in summer camps before the second shutdown. Having structured sessions helped bridge the gap from his junior season to now.
"Those practices were huge for me," Loken said. "It's tough to maintain your skating if you go a whole offseason without skating. You need to find a way to get on the ice in your free time if you want to play at a high level."
Loken has learned a lot from the guys who have played before him. Last year, senior goalie Landyn James was named to the All-Central Lakes Conference team. Before him, it was Bailey Rosch, who is currently the starting goalie for the Blizzard.
Loken and James split time in net a year ago almost evenly. Loken finished with an .881 save percentage and 3.03 goals-against average. Competing with other talented goalies in past seasons has helped him prepare to earn the job now and try to take his game to another level.
"My mentality is to do whatever it takes to be the top guy," Loken said. "If you don't have that mentality, you're never going to play. Not to take away anything from the other goalies, I'm going to work my hardest and best so I play. If that means they don't play, then so be it. Again, I don't want to take anything away from the other guys on the team. I hope they push me to be even better because I'm going to push them."
Being the senior goalie comes with responsibility. Even though Loken aims for competitive practices, he hopes that he can lead by example.
"Senior leadership is always important, especially in a year like this," Loken said. "Being a good example on the ice is huge. If they see a senior slacking because it's a short season, we will hurt from it. Making sure that we have strong leaders from our captains and all of our seniors is important. We have a great captain in Jacob Partington and great assistants in Josiah Gronholz and Grant Rebrovich. They work their butts off to set an example, and I'm going to do the same."
One of the biggest things Loken has learned so far is to have a short memory. He's able to put a bad day behind him in order to move onto the next.
"If you have a bad game or a bad practice, it's important to keep your head up," Loken said. "Every goaltender has his ups and downs. There's always one constant, and that's the effort you put in. Staying positive and working hard is all you can do sometimes."
Loken understands that nothing is guaranteed in this shortened season, and he's not taking anything for granted with the time he's given on the ice.
"I think making the most out of every practice is what I'm focused on right now," Loken said. "There were times last year where I was out of it in practice, and I would slack off sometimes. In the moment, you don't think much of it. But now I'm sitting here thinking about the times I could've gone harder in those last five minutes. I want to make the most of my opportunities and do my part to help my team win games. I know the guys in front of me will do their part. It's up to me to do mine."