MINNEAPOLIS -- Regardless of how the Minnesota State High School League realigns sections for the 2005-06 school year, the Little Falls Flyers have to be one of the favorites to repeat as Section 4, Class 1A boys' hockey champions.
The Flyers return 15 of the 20 players on their state tournament roster. Included in that group is junior first-line wing Joey Cotton and the second line, centered by freshman Jared Festler, with sophomore Lukas Jorgensen and freshman Beau Hanowski at the wings. Junior goalie Jake Kluver returns. So do five of the top six defensemen.
Flyers coach Tony Couture said players must get in the weight room in order for Little Falls to make a return trip.
"Coming down here we wanted to play three games," Couture said. "Granted, we got blown out in two of them but we did win one. We have to build on that and build on the experience of the kids who are coming back.
"Now they've got a little taste of it and hopefully they will want it bad enough to get in the weight room and work hard."
It was the final high school game for seniors Steven Festler, Mikael Lickteig, Paddy Stoy, Adam Boser and Kyle Barnes.
Festler, who scored the only goal in Saturday's loss, ended his senior season with 33 goals and 74 total points and is the Flyers' all-time scoring leader. Festler entered the state tournament as the third-leading scorer in 1A.
"We're all good friends," Festler said of the seniors. "We hang out. It's awesome being with them all this time. They're good kids."
Experience of lifetime
Kluver called the tournament experience "breathtaking," particularly playing at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"Once you step on the ice at the Xcel it kind of takes your breath away," Kluver said. "It takes you a while to get used to it, but we got used to it.
"Just hanging out at the hotel, going to the games, it was a once in a lifetime experience."
Lickteig, who entered the tournament fifth in 1A scoring, finished his senior year with 35 goals and 70 points. He said the state experience "was a blast."
"The whole atmosphere was a lot of fun, watching the best players in the state competing against the best players, trash talking with the best players," Lickteig said.
The Festler-Lickteig-Cotton line finished the season with 77 goals and 183 total points.
Kluver made 79 saves at state, 32 against Albert Lea.
"I thought Jake, again, did what he could to keep the puck out of the net," Couture said. "When you have to make 8,000 saves before the rebounds go in then something's wrong with the way you're clearing the puck out."
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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