Devils Lake looking for new solutions after lopsided loss to Fargo South/Shanley

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Devils Lake senior defenseman Barret Connor takes a slapshot in a game against Fargo South/Shanley on Jan. 5 at Burdick Arena.

The Firebirds were well aware of the challenge they would face when the Bruins came to town. 

Fargo South/Shanley only lost four seniors from last season, which saw the Bruins make a run to the state title game before losing Grand Forks Red River. Early on in this season, the Bruins proved to be heating up yet against, racking up four wins, with their only loss coming to No. 1 Grand Forks Red River. The Bruins had talent and numbers, something that the Firebirds knew would be hard to match.

On the other bench, Devils Lake was only skating 23 players, split between varsity and junior varsity rosters. With a handful of players already playing the JV game before, the Firebirds knew that the way to compete with the Bruins was to outwork them. But the Bruins' speed and special teams would prove to be too much for Devils Lake (1-4) as they would fall to Fargo South/Shanley (5-1), 11-1. 

"It was a tough game," Firebirds head coach Jens Stokke said. "I knew it was going to be a tough game going into it. They moved the puck really well and I knew we wouldn't be able to take any penalties. They [Fargo South] went three for four on the power play and their feet just killed us." 

The Bruins controlled the pace of the game from puck drop as they would score 45 seconds into the game for a 1-0 edge. By the time the first period had ended, Fargo South was up 6-0 and had outshot the Firebirds by 22. In that time, senior goaltender Braden Schmidtz was being put to work in between the pipes. While most goalies may be asking to end their night early, Schmidtz wanted to stay in net.

Stokke had made Schmidtz aware that he was going to face a lot of shots early and even nearing 30 shots faced by the Bruins at the end of the first, Schmidtz still wanted to stay in net. However, after two quick power-play goals and a shot from the point from Grayson Wetch that would leak in for a 9-1 lead, Schmidtz was relieved of his duties on the night for junior goaltender Zach White. 

"A guy can only take so much back there," Stokke said. "Every goalie is different and he knew that the game was going to be fast-paced. It was going to be a lot of play in our d-zone, so there was going to be a lot of shots off the bat. They kept just coming and coming for him, and at the time he got pulled it was just enough. He didn't want to come off the ice, but he can only take so much." 

White would come in to close out the game, only allowing two goals during his time on the ice. White has played a major role throughout the season in keeping the Firebirds close throughout games. Against West Fargo Sheyenne, Grafton, and Fargo North, White made over 40 saves, in one case helping the Firebirds to a 3-2 win over the Spartans on Dec. 22.

"He [White] had some big saves and that's what we need for our goaltending to do for us every night," Stokke said. "We were hoping for that for Zach against Grafton and that didn't happen, so we gave Schmidtz the start tonight. We're going to have a lot of play in our d-zone, so we practice a lot on that to try to get the puck out and play our positions. We need to be able to rely on our goaltending really strong and hopefully get some good bounces in the offensive zone." 

While the Firebirds struggled to hold back the Bruins brigade at even strength, going down a man multiple times made the combative effort even harder. Back to back holding penalties, an unsportsmanlike misconduct penalty and a slashing call would see Fargo South push their overall score into double digits. The Firebirds were trying to do what they could to slow down the Bruins but would find themselves in the box. 

However, Devils Lake would find the back of the net in the second period as junior forward Parker Swanson would throw the puck from the behind of the net to the front where sophomore forward Taylor Roed would bank it in to cut the Bruins lead down to 6-1. The Firebirds would have a handful of chances in the second and third periods, but their opportunities to light the lamp were outweighed by Fargo South's successful conversions. 

Moving past Tuesday's result, the Firebirds' presence on the ice is something they're looking to improve, but according to Stokke, it goes deeper than that. The boys are happy and excited to be there and playing every game, especially during this time where nothing is certain due to COVID-19. The upperclassmen have been playing with each other since they were in middle school and never pass up an opportunity to play the game they love.  

However, that excitement to play with your buddies comes with its downside. Stokke said that there isn't too much depth beyond that and the coaching staff is working on elevating their team's excitement into a competitive drive. 

"This group of guys are glad to be out here playing," Stokke said. "They're happy they're able to play hockey and aren't happy that we're losing by any means, but more of our kids are glad that they are able to be skating around. They're not taking it serious, so this loss not going to devastate them. They've probably forgotten about it already."

It's an equation that the Devils Lake coaching staff continues to chip away at as they move further into the season. It's something the coaches haven't seen too much of and with low numbers, they are looking for a solution to keep the players happy and continuing to develop the team's overall success on the ice.

"They want to be here, but they are just content on coming out here and getting to play," Stokke said. "It's a tough game and a tough loss. Some of those kids in that locker room take these losses hard. It's just not enough of them." 

Heading forward, the Firebirds are back on the road as they face West Fargo on Friday, another team that is in a similar position as Devils Lake. The Packers dropped a narrow result to Fargo North, 6-5, on Jan. 31. West Fargo is currently 0-5 on the season. As the Bruins took advantage of the Firebirds early, Devils Lake is looking to come out with a quick attack and a faster jump on Friday.

"We want to come out more ready and up on our toes," Stokke said. "We can't be looking back at the play. We have to get the kids to be more aggressive and get after the play. That's something we knew were going to have to work on all year long. We've seen this group coming and we have to motivate them and get them excited to go."

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.