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Thief River Falls juggles lineup to fuel return to Minnesota state hockey tournament

Thief River Falls junior Gunnar Fellman (3), positioning the puck against the defense of East Grand Forks' Felix Zuniga (left) during the Section 8A title game Thursday in Warroad, Minn., is part of a veteran corps of Prowlers defensemen. Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald

THIEF RIVER FALLS—When goals were hard to come by, Tim Bergland turned to his defense to spark the offense.

A few position shifts in personnel have paid off in a big way for Bergland's Thief River Falls High School boys hockey team. The Prowlers are headed to the Minnesota Class A state tournament after winning the Section 8A tournament last week.

The Powlers average 3.8 goals a game—a far cry from the season's opening 10 games, when they totaled 16 goals.

After a 2-7-1 start, Bergland made some changes. Senior Brady Anderson, in his third season as a regular defenseman, was shifted to wing on the Prowlers' first line. Hunter Larson, the center on the second line, switched positions with defenseman Kaleb Flaagen.

"We've tended to not give up a lot of goals,'' Bergland, the TRF coach, said. "But, until around Christmas time, we weren't scoring a lot of goals. We made some personnel changes that seemed to generate more offense.

"Brady was a rock-steady defenseman. But he was a fairly offensive defenseman. He had a good shot. He was receptive to the move. It was experimentation. We just weren't creating a lot of scoring chances.''

Since the changes, Thief River Falls is 14-3-1. Anderson, the team's third-leading scorer with 16 goals and 17 assists, is part of a potent line with leading scorer Aaron Myers (27-20) and second-leading scorer Tucker Skime (7-27).

Flaagen (2-5) centers a productive second line of Jace Jorde (14-7) and Parker Lane (4-6). And Larson (4-4) has been productive on a veteran defensive corps with Evan Bushy (10-21), Keaden Kempert (0-11) and Gunnar Fellman (0-2).

"The kids were working so hard and we weren't getting a lot accomplished (offensively). It was time to make a change,'' Bergland said. "If that hadn't worked, we would have tried something else. But we haven't had to.''

Anderson had no problem switching from the defensive position where he had established himself.

"Last year I played a few shifts on offense,'' said Anderson, who has 14 goals since the position switch. "I thought it would be a fun change. I was excited about it.

"I think (all the player shifts) have helped our team.''

Bergland knew the offense would be a work in process. Myers had 24 goals and 15 assists last season. No other returning player had scored more than 10 points. The foundation was a defense anchored by veteran goaltender Nick Corneliusen (2.00 goals-against average, .930 save percentage this season).

"Our strength is our defense and goaltending,'' Bergland said. "We knew we'd be in a lot of low-scoring games with that group. Corneliusen is a good goalie. He's had a good year.''

The question mark was the offense. After the position shifts, "things probably turned out better than we had hoped,'' Bergland said.

Thief River Falls at a glance

• Record: 16-10-2, Section 8A champion.

• Coach: Tim Bergland.

• State tournament opener: The fifth-seeded Prowlers play No. 4 seed Alexandria (17-10-1) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Xcel Energy Center in the Class A state quarterfinals.

• Prowlers leaders: Sr. Aaron Myers (27 goals-20 assists--47 points), soph. Tucker Skime (7-27--34), sr. Brady Anderson (16-17--33), soph. Evan Bushy (10-21--31), sr. Jace Jorde (14-7--21), jr. Keaden Kempert (0-11--11), sr. Parker Lane (4-6--10), jr. Hunter Larson (4-4--8). In goal: Sr. Nick Corneliusen (.930 save %, 2.00 goals-against avg.)

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