Craig Larson takes over as head coach of the Northern Lakes Lightning (Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus/Crosby-Ironton) boys’ hockey team opened the season with an 6-4 win over Breckenridge/Wahpeton on Saturday, Nov. 23.
“We’re a very young team,” Larson said of the Lightning. “We look to compete hard in every game, and look forward to playing in a new, competitive section.”
Northern Lakes will also witch from Class AA to Class A this year.
“It gives this program a better, more realistic chance in the tournament,” Larson said of playing in Section 6A where he predicts that St. Cloud Cathedral is the favorite.
Besides a new section, the Lightning will have a new look after the graduation of nine seniors.
“We will be short on scoring, and the young guys are going to need to step up,” said Larson, whose assistant coaches are Tony Maucieri and Tony Felton. “We need to have three lines that can contribute.”
Top returning forwards include senior captain Nick Blanchette (C-I) and juniors Jake Hyytinen (Aitkin) and Nick Olson (Pequot Lakes). Letterwinners on defense are junior Austin Mesenbrink, junior Alex Tangen and senior Dalton Rickard (all of Pequot Lakes) and sophomore Derek French (C-I). Returning goaltenders are junior Mitch Stangel (C-I) and freshman Jaeger Reed (Pequot Lakes).
“We’re rebuilding, but this is a good experience for coming years,” said Larson, who also serves as Northern Lakes youth hockey director, a position that allow him “a chance to develop those young players. And our youth program numbers are growing.”
Other players expected to see varsity action are forwards Levi Carie, Brett Gontarek, Luke Florell, Luke LeMieur, Josh Maucieri and Kyle Sellner; and defensemen Jared Swell, Jack Makowsky and Josh Miles.
Larson is familiar with the lakes area, including knowing former Lightning boys’ high school Shawn Chambers.
“I met Craig last year when he was coaching the (Little Falls) Flying Aces,” Chambers said of the Junior Hockey League opponent of the Breezy Point North Stars, which Chambers has served as assistant coach the past two years. “He has also coached at Minnesota Hockey Camps (Nisswa), so I know he has good hockey knowledge.”
Larson became head coach at St. Cloud Apollo in 2001. He took a full-time hockey position with the Granite City Lumberjacks junior team in 2007. He later became coach of the Flying Aces for three seasons before stepping away from junior hockey.
Larson was recently hired as the general manager of the Breezy Point North Stars junior team of the North American Tier III league.