Michael Wincensten (in the foreground) scores for South St. Paul in the Packers' 6-4 loss to Mankato East on Saturday.
Mankato East/Loyola is embracing the concept of minimalism.
Following a three-game losing skid in late December, the team and the town collectively questioned which direction that group would go in the coming months.
“We had no clue what was going to happen in early January,” Cougar coach Adam Fries said on Saturday afternoon. “We were doubting ourselves, we were doubting or players, we were doubting out coaches,” Fries continued. “(The) coaches sat down and (admitted) it starts with us. These kids’ success lies on our shoulders.”
Everything was stripped down. The game plan, the team philosophy, and the teardown even included some cosmetic changes.
“We simplified the game, simplified the locker room, simplified our players,” Fries explained.
Fast-forward five weeks and the Cougars have won nine consecutive games, polishing off the ninth win with a 6-4 victory over South St. Paul on Saturday.
Senior forward Nolan Michels tallied a hat-trick in the win for the Cougars (15-6-1) and said that the team’s commitment to simplicity works for him.
“Get pucks on net and grind,” Michels said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing, and it’s working.”
The offensive outburst was the first three-goal performance of Michels’ high school career.
“It’s awesome,” Michels said, applying the Cougars’ newfound straightforwardness to his feelings about his first hat-trick. “I’ve been going hard for the past few years here, finally getting into the rhythm, tucking a few goals away has been nice.”
Brett Borchardt tallied a goal for the Cougars in their win over South St. Paul.
The Cougars saw their 5-2 lead nearly evaporate during the third period, as South St. Paul’s Cam Kluender scored a shorthanded goal and Brandon Reynolds pulled the Packers (9-11-1) within one goal.
Fries said that eliminating turnovers was just one part of the conversation he had with his team during the timeout he called after the Packers’ late rally.
“Taking care of the puck is the number-one priority,” Fries said. “Doing good things and making good decisions with it and getting it going in the right direction. We didn’t do that for a few minutes, and they took advantage.”
In addition to Kluender and Reynolds, South St. Paul goals came from Michael Wincensten and Jackson Luhrs. Matthew Salzle, Brett Borchardt, and Sam Schulz scored single goals for the Cougars.
Despite nine straight wins and 15 on the season, the work is far from done for the Cougars from a coaching standpoint according to Fries.
“We’re riding a nice streak right now, and obviously things are working for us, but we gotta get back to basic hockey,” Fries said. “For three minutes there, not playing basic hockey killed us.”
South St. Paul's Cam Kluender helped pull the Packers within one goal in the third period of Saturday's loss.