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Lakeland hockey recognized with postseason honors

April 28, 2020 by Brett LaBore

The Lakeland boys’ hockey team had a successful season with many fun wins, and a few of those reasons came from the coaching staff and the players. 

Max Toijala was named All-State honorable mention and Kyle Bengtson was nominated for the Adam Burish Award. Also, assistant coaches Gary Olson and Gary Suter were named Assistant Coaches of the Year for Division 2, Section 2. 

Toijala was among 13 other sophomores and juniors to be an All-State honorable mention forward. It was his first time being on such list. 

“Max was incredible all season and was certainly deserving off first team all state honors,” explained coach Jake Suter. “Max has grown so much over the past couple years both as a player, but also as a person and a leader for our team.”

Toijala was the Great Northern Conference Player of the Year. In 21 games, he scored 35 goals and 24 assists for 59 points. All three numbers led the team. He also led the team with 10 power play goals and 2.81 points per game. He also had six game-winning goals.

Some of Toijala’s best games included leading a win against the Northwest Icemen on Jan. 23 when he scored three goals and finished with four points total. Against Northland Pines on Dec. 17, he scored and assisted one goal, helping the Thunderbirds to stay toe-to-toe with the Eagles in periods one and two.

“He is a great kid and is a lot of fun to work with and coach,” Jake Suter said. “He is someone that really represents our program and our community well.” 

In addition to being the GNC Player of the Year, he was a unanimous pick for first team all-conference. Toijala was a big reason the Thunderbirds went 16-5-1, 6-1 on the season. And he will be back next year.

A team cannot have success unless all the parts are working together. That includes players, managers and of course coaches. 

“They were phenomenal and without them we wouldn’t of had the success that we had,” Jake Suter said.

Olson and Gary Suter were a big reason the Thunderbirds had the success that they did. 

“It’s been a pleasure working with and getting to know Gary Olson over the past two years,” Jake Suter said. “He’s an extremely hard worker and helps me out tremendously. My old man’s resume speaks for itself, so obviously having someone with that much hockey knowledge is pretty surreal.”

They assisted head coach Jake Suter in many areas and put together great game plans. 

“All three of us fill different roles within the program,” Olson said. “We know and understand this and because of this trust and respect we know that each member of the coaching staff is going to fulfill their role to the best of their ability. When one of us can't make it, one of the other two step in and get the job done.”

Finally, teams cannot have success without guys doing the little things, like Bengtson. 

“Very cool. Kyle was an absolute blast to have on the team this year. He is a great young man and a leader,” Jake Suter said. “He will be very missed on the ice and in the locker room next season.” 

The Adam Burish Award is for one “unsung hero” who isn’t the best player on the team or competing for the Player of the Year Award, but yet is are an important member of the team, on and off the ice.

Adam Burish played for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL before four years at the University of Wisconsin. He was the captain of the Badgers’ 2006 National Championship team.

He played nine years in the NHL, with the Blackhawks, Stars and Sharks and was on the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup winning team. 

Bengtson finished the season with two goals and five assists for seven points. One of those goals came in a big way. On Feb. 15 in the GNC third place game against Waupaca, Bengtson scored the Thunderbirds’ second goal to put them up 2-0. The game would eventually go to overtime, where Lakeland won 3-2.

If it wasn’t for Bengtson’s goal, overtime might not have even been a possibility. 

To have a great team, it takes everyone. Lakeland showed that no matter big or small, each member of the team contributed to a successful and fun Thunderbird season.

Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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