Buoyed by goal 26 seconds into the first period, Thief River Falls shuts out Crookston 5-0.

No hockey team ever wants to give up a goal less than 30 seconds into the game, which is what the Pirate boys’ hockey team did at Crookston Sports Center Thursday evening against Section 8A rival Thief River Falls on their way to a 5-0 loss to the Prowlers.

But it’s the way the goal was scored – talented Prowler Evan Bushy passed from one side of the Pirate net to the other to Blake Biermaier, who buried a shot into a mostly-open net – that irked Pirate Head Coach Josh Hardy the most. Biermaier was wide open due to Pirate defensemen watching Bushy with the puck instead of looking backside, and there was very little Pirate junior goalie Noah Dragseth could do.

“It’s always difficult to give up a goal early, but maybe even more so when it’s an easily preventable one,” Hardy said. “We lacked the awareness all night to pick up guys coming in on the weak side and TRF made us pay early on it.

“Digging yourself a hole at that point of the game really changes the complexion of the game from a mental standpoint,” he continued. “But I thought we did a nice job battling back and had some real nice stretches there in the first (period).”

The loss dropped Crookston to 0-8 on the season. They’re off for a week now and will look to get into the win column on Friday, Dec. 27 when they play Fargo North and the annual holiday tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. With Thursday’s win, Thief River Falls moves to 5-4-1.

The Prowlers had 36 shots on goal to 13 by the Pirates. The disparity illustrates Crookston’s inability to maintain consistent pressure in the Prowlers’ end of the rink and put quality shots on net. Then Thief River was able to pivot from defense to offense in rapid fashion and make quality rushes up the ice.

Maintaining quality offensive zone time is something Hardy said has been and continues to be a focus in practice. His team still hasn’t “gotten there,” he added.

“Every time we did get a puck on net, we had a scoring opportunity, even on the bad angle, low percentage shots we had good chances come off them, with multiple scrums in front of the net where we just couldn’t find a way to bury a rebound,” Hardy continued. It’s difficult for players, when they fall behind in a game, he explained, to continue to play within the system. Soon, players start to wonder if they need to do it all themselves, or that they need to set up the perfect play to get a puck past the goal line.

“The reality is just the opposite,” Hardy noted. “You need to keep thing simple, get pucks on net and crash the net for a rebound. We’ve struggled to make that connection to this point; hopefully we can get there soon.”

While an 0-8 record is obviously no fun to look at in the standings, Hardy points to the fact that the start of this season, when it comes to quality of opponent, has been the toughest test for the Pirates in his time as coach, and maybe beyond his tenure. Being winless is no fun, but Hardy said he continues to be proud of how the team continues to work hard as they try to take their game to the next level.

“We’re going to take a long, hard look in the mirror (at Friday’s practice) and watch last night’s game front to back and really evaluate our game as a team and as individuals and coaches,” he said. “Then we shut the book on the first half of the season and get ready for the next part, where our schedule softens up a bit.”