It wasn’t the closing head coach Aaron Forsythe or his squad of 10 seniors wanted or expected.
During the first round of Section 7AA play last Tuesday in Grand Rapids, the Forest Lake boys hockey team suffered a heartbreaker, falling 2-1 after two overtime periods.
“We needed to play great, especially on the road in a section game,” Forsythe said. “It sounds cliche, but we needed to play great and we played good.”
The fifth-seeded Rangers and fourth-seeded Thunderhawks remained scoreless after the first period before senior Brett Gravelle gave Forest Lake a 1-0 lead halfway through the second period with a short-handed goal.
“It was a magnificent individual effort,” Forsythe said. “He picked a pocket and, like it came out of a highlight reel, went on a breakaway for a really nice play that gave us momentum going into the third period.”
But Grand Rapids wasn’t ready to call it a season. They responded early in the third period to even the score.
Following a scoreless first overtime period, Ranger senior Paul Stehr nearly netted a win when his shot hit the right goal post, ricocheted across the net to the left post, and bounced out.
“He had space and moved in, beat a great defender at the top of the circle and let it rip,” Forsythe said. “He clearly beat the goalie, but then hit that post.”
The Thunderhawks captured the playoff win 90 seconds later with a sudden-death goal at 3:30 in the second overtime.
Forsythe said despite the loss, his team played tough throughout the stressful situation.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to say we outplayed them in overtime,” he said. “Jesse (Garcia) had one of the best games of the year. His tracking was sharp all night and really did a good job controlling rebounds and limiting second opportunities.”
The senior recorded 33 saves.
Forest Lake closed its season at 15-7-4 overall, 11-3-4 in the Suburban East Conference and 4-3 against Section 7AA opponents. It was the second season in a row the Rangers earned 15 wins, and their record was the best since 2009-2010, when Forest Lake went 18-7-2.
Two Rangers broke school records this season. Senior Brett Gravelle broke the single-season scoring record with 30 goals, previously set at 28 by Bryan Peltier in 1999-2000. Senior Alex Egle owns the new school record in assists with 32, breaking Gravelle’s record of 30 set last season.
Forsythe said the Ranger returners have big skates to fill next season.
“As a collective group, and this is a high reflection of the 10 seniors, I haven’t coached a team with a higher hockey IQ,” Forsythe said. “We could implement different systems at any time, they made adjustments easily and applied it the next night in a game. They are so coachable and just the character they brought to the locker room and every practice and game — they deserve credit for that. It is hard to see them go.”