Lip on Sports: Johnsons are leading Denfeld turnaround
Looking at the Duluth Denfeld Hunters boys' hockey roster is much like looking through any Northland area phonebook -- there are many Johnsons. Senior captain Brett Johnson; Brett's little brother, sophomore Trent Johnson; and sophomore phenom Ja...
Looking at the Duluth Denfeld Hunters boys' hockey roster is much like looking through any Northland area phonebook -- there are many Johnsons. Senior captain Brett Johnson; Brett's little brother, sophomore Trent Johnson; and sophomore phenom Jake Johnson log a lot of ice time and score a lot of points.
The Johnsons accounted for seven of the 12 points (goals and assists) in Denfeld's 5-4 overtime win over a talented Mound-Westonka team Saturday, Dec. 3, at the DECC Arena. Senior Brandon Owen (1 goal, 1 assist), sophomore Chris Stafne, (1 goal, 1 assist), and freshman Max Skarman (1 assist) rounded out the scoring for the Hunters.
Second year Hunter head coach Kevin Smalley is building a strong hockey program at Denfeld. I asked Kevin how this year compares to last year.
"My philosophy doesn't change each year. The kids do, but the big key is to find a group of kids that believe in what I'm telling them and what we are trying to do for them. If we can do that, we will be competitive.
"It is tough to find 20 kids and put them together, but fortunately I've had great kids in the last two years, and they believe in what I'm saying. We are getting positive results."
What is coach Smalley's philosophy? "You come every day, and you get 1 percent better every day. It is not asking a lot, but if we can get 1 percent better every day that tells me that the kids are focused, and they want to get better. If we win, we win together. If we lose, we lose together. That philosophy and that kind of environment has made my job very positive.
"I'm very happy to be here. I'm lucky to have these kids. They are good kids."
Denfeld seemed to be fighting an uphill battle throughout the contest. A power play goal at the start of the third period got the Hunters even with the White Hawks from Lake Minnetonka at 2-2.
In less than five more minutes, Mound-Westonka was back on top at 4-2. The never say die Hunters found that extra gear and picked it up a notch to tie the game before the end of regulation. The Denfeld fans, led by their cheerleaders, were now on their feet.
Midway through sudden death overtime, Denfeld's captain Brett Johnson slammed home the puck for the game winning goal after good work by his linemates Brandon Owen and Jake Johnson set it up. The Denfeld fans were now jumping up and down in jubilation, while Brett Johnson was being mobbed by his teamates. This was high school hockey excitement at its best.
After the game, Smalley said: "We hope to get the fans back in the stands. It has been a long time since we've had a good following. I think we are getting more and more people now. They believe in what we are doing, and the school is showing support. We appreciate anyone who comes to our games."
If this hockey team gets 1 percent better every day, fair warning to the rest of the teams in Section 2A.
- Mound-Westonka boys' head hockey coach Paul Willett and Denfeld's Smalley are both Denfeld hockey alumni.
- Mound-Westonka plays home games in its new $6.5 million arena.
- Jake Johnson from Denfeld was one of six Minnesota players on the USA U-17 hockey team that won the gold medal at the Five Nations Cup tournament played in Switzerland this past summer.
Jim Lipovetz writes a regular sports column for the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .