On Friday night, the Crookston boys' hockey team played what head coach Josh Hardy called its best period of the year.
Things quickly went south for the Pirates after that stellar first period. They gave up three goals in the second and one in the third, losing at No. 10 St. Paul Johnson 4-1 going away.
Crookston couldn't turn things around Saturday, losing to Tartan, 7-2, in Oakdale, and the Pirates headed back home with an 0-6 record and the same questions they've asked themselves all season.
First and foremost among them: when, and how, does Crookston get over the hump from creating chances to finishing them?
"We had an opportunity to go up two to three goals in that first period against St. Paul Johnson," Hardy said. "We just never found the back of the net, so now you're pushing a little, and then you get behind."
Jack Doda's (Fr., F) power-play goal with seven minutes to play was far too little and far too late, dropping the Pirates to 0-5 despite another game in which shot totals (31 for the Governors, 30 for the Pirates) were nearly even.
After Friday's tough loss, Hardy thought his team came out with noticeably less energy against Tartan. That showed on the scoreboard, as the Titans scored twice within six minutes.
Crookston turned things around in the second half of the first period, though, and Alex Longoria (Fr., F) capped off the surge by scoring his first goal of the season, 36 seconds before intermission.
The Pirates' momentum didn't last them out of the locker room. Tartan found the net three times in the second period, two coming on the power play.
Quinn Westlake (Sr., F) scored his first goal to open the third period, but the Titans scored twice more to ice the game away.
"I think we learn a little bit about ourselves in the sense of, what do we need to do, what sort of team do we need to be," Hardy said. "... Today at times, it got through to kids that if we put pucks on net we're gonna create opportunities. It doesn't have to be perfect, so hopefully we can utilize that going forward.
"It's just getting experience in uncomfortable situations for some of these players that they're not used to, and I think that's the best way to learn."
For the week, Crookston took 54 shots on goal to its opponents' 53. It follows a trend that dates back to the season opener against Mounds View: when the Pirates create opportunities and control the puck in the offensive zone, like they did against Mounds View and Sartell-St. Stephen, they can't capitalize on them.
However, when Crookston's shots are limited, it has found a way to score on them anyway, but in those games, its defense has suffered playing back on its heels — defeats against Little Falls and Warroad come to example.
"I think it comes down to, while we do have quite a few guys that have been here a long time, for the most part our roster is guys that are playing big time high school minutes for the first time," Hardy said. "It's gonna take some getting used to, we're gonna have to take some lumps here as they figure it out. I hate to say it's an experience thing, but that's a little bit of it."
With that being said, the question remains: can the Pirates can speed up the process and put it all together sooner, and how?
"If you know," Hardy said, "You tell me."
UP NEXT: Crookston takes on East Grand Forks on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Crookston Sports Center.
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