Tim Moe walked off the ice on Monday night feeling better about his team than he had in weeks.

Odd, considering that Crookston girls’ hockey had just blown a two-goal lead to Thief River Falls on its way to a 7-5 loss. Then again, the Pirates (6-11) haven’t beaten the Prowlers in eight years.

“We had them worried the whole time,” Moe said. “That’s a team that’s used to beating us by 10 goals, and they’re still very good.”

But that’s only part of what Moe was so encouraged by.

Crookston’s rapid improvement this season has come at the cost of rapidly shifting expectations for the young, talented team. That made the recent string of three straight losses to teams from North Dakota — games that have been fairly reliable positive results for the Pirates — more disappointing than normal.

The disappointment of letting winnable games get away is an unfamiliar one for Crookston. But, in a way, it’s just one of the steps to getting better that Moe frequently addresses.

So after a 4-2 loss to Devils Lake on Jan. 2, the next step became: how would the Pirates respond to this new feeling?

“When we're winning it was fun,” Moe said then. “Now we've lost some, and when things don't go your way, it's sometimes tough to get to the arena and tough to put out your full effort all the time. This is the time it's gonna test us here to see what group of kids we have.”

That group of kids rose to the challenge wholeheartedly.

Coaches aren’t allowed to have contact with teams on Sundays, so to compensate, many girls got to the rink for open hockey. Not a handful, either — Moe estimates it was somewhere from 20 to 25 — and totally independent of anything the coaching staff was doing.

“They were moving around and taking this seriously, because we wanna get better,” Moe said. “We wanna win these games, and we’re getting closer.”

Catherine Tiedemann (Jr., F), a team captain, noted another factor: team chemistry, which Crookston has only built throughout the season.

“We're doing a lot more off-ice stuff as a team,” Tiedemann said. “We're just gonna try to build our relationship on and off the ice, and if we build if off the ice, it will show on the ice.”

And within that developing chemistry lay the confidence required to blast out of the gates and put a team as good as Thief River Falls on its heels.

In contrast to Crookston’s sluggish starts in its last two games, Tiedemann scored the first goal Monday night 90 seconds into the game with a textbook breakaway finish. Just one minute later, Kenzie Epema (Jr., D) made it 2-0 with a shot from the point.

However, after Raina Satrom (8, F) scored towards the end of the first period to push the lead to 3-1, the Pirates, in Tiedemann’s words, “overlooked” their fast start.

“We just reminded each other that we needed to stay focused and not let it get away from us,” Tiedemann said.

Moe and Tiedemann both agreed: it wasn’t complacency that did Crookston in on Monday.Tiedemann pointed to tired legs — a thing that can happen when a team is outshot 29-12 and suddenly forced to play catch-up. Moe cited an inability to get pucks to the net to take advantage of offensive zone time, which points to the need for more strength and maturity.

“We ended up getting stuck on the ice way too long on shifts at times,” Moe said. “We need to do a better job getting off the ice, but part of that is, they don't let you. They're on you right away, and we can fight them off for a while but when you end up on the ice for two and a half minutes, you're just not gonna be able to sustain your intensity for that long in the defensive zone.”

Even in the midst of their best start in several years, the Pirates are still looking at the bigger picture.They’re admittedly not quite on the level of Thief River Falls, Warroad and East Grand Forks, but they’re getting closer and closer, and in the meantime they’re plenty capable of finding the silver lining in defeat.

“We have a long way to go, but we've come a long way as well,” Tiedemann said. “We're starting to work better as a team and it's starting to show on the ice. We just need to put all three periods together, and we'll get there.”

So on Monday night, the emphasis wasn’t that Crookston let a 4-2 game get out of hand. It was that, through team cohesiveness and resiliency, it built that margin in the first place.

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730, Jacob Shames (405) 496-0168 or by email at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

Follow along on Twitter @CroxTimesSports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.