In final season, Kaleb Thingelstad taking a big leap for Crookston

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Kaleb Thingelstad has put up 11 points — five goals and six assists — in six games this season. Thingelstad had just eight points combined in his sophomore and junior seasons.

"I don't want to sound too arrogant," Kaleb Thingelstad begins, before stating his desire to keep averaging over a point per game.

Maybe last year it might have come off that way. Not so much anymore.

Through six games, the senior is the Crookston boys' hockey team's leading scorer, having netted five goals and assisted on six more. In Thingelstad's first two seasons on varsity, he scored eight points — one goal and seven assists — combined. He needed just four games to surpass that total this season.

Who saw this coming? Josh Hardy, the Pirates' head coach, did somewhat. He knew Thingelstad had the tools: good speed, quick hands, great vision. But even he didn't anticipate Thingelstad's current level of production — he was hoping for a point per game.

Still, Hardy's more qualified than most to explain the difference between this season's Kaleb Thingelstad and the Kaleb Thingelstad of previous years.

"He has a lot more confidence this season," Hardy said Wednesday. "He always has a ton of confidence to pull moves in practice, but lacked that at times in game situations during previous seasons. This season, everyone is seeing what we've seen the last three years in practice."

As to where that confidence has come from, it's probably best to ask Thingelstad himself.

The beginning of his junior season "wasn't so fun," in his words. He had just two assists, and the Pirates lost their first 11 games. But things took a turn for the even worse in a Jan. 4 game at Fergus Falls. Thingelstad broke his wrist on what Hardy called a "funky play," putting him out of action.

"It was horrible," Thingelstad said. "I wished I was out there playing."

Added Hardy: "He was starting to come into his own as a player and was playing a huge role on our team. To go out like that was brutal."

But there's often a kind of silver lining to sports injuries, and this was true in Thingelstad's case, too. A few weeks after Crookston's season ended, COVID-19 hit. Many athletes were forced to realize how quickly high school sports could all be taken away, but Thingelstad got that experience two months earlier. The pandemic just drove it home.

"Don't take this high school hockey for granted," he said. "Cherish everything you get. Breaking my wrist was a real eye-opener."

Thingelstad broke his wrist last season but recovered over the offseason, lifting weights, shooting pucks and playing rounds of golf to get stronger.

So Thingelstad decided to seize the moment. He shot plenty of pucks and lifted plenty of weights during the offseason to build his strength and shooting power back up. A member of the Crookston golf team during the spring, he hit the golf course quite often, which also helped improve his wrist strength.

Offseason improvements and a return to full health allowed Thingelstad to slot seamlessly back on the Pirates' top line, along with sophomores Alex Longoria and Jack Doda. Together, the trio has accounted for 13 of Crookston's 19 goals, and each are averaging over a point per game.

Doda, Longoria and Thingelstad didn't even start the season together. They took the ice as a unit for the first time this season against Kittson County Central on Jan. 19, doing so in the third period. Thingelstad scored two goals and assisted on three more, helping the Pirates cut a 5-0 deficit to 6-5 despite a losing effort.

Since then, the line's chemistry has continued to shine through. While Thingelstad's numbers certainly benefit from playing alongside Doda (36 points last season) and Longoria (14), he's provided the same benefit for his teammates.

"Not only has he elevated his game, but he's helped those he's playing with be better as well," Hardy said. "That's the difference between a good and a great player."

That's been the case in the locker room, too, where Thingelstad has led by example. Hardy describes him as somewhat quiet, but that only means that coupled with his senior status, the Pirates are sure to listen when he has something to say.

Here's what Thingelstad has to say right now: he wants some more wins. Crookston is just 1-5 on the season, having picked up its first victory last week at Lake of the Woods. (In that game, Thingelstad blocked a potential game-tying shot late and scored the clinching empty-net goal.) On a young team lacking real depth, Thingelstad's contributions are critical, and even then haven't always been enough.

How does Thingelstad hope to change that?

"Work as hard as I can, play defense, and hope offense comes out of playing defense."

Nothing too arrogant about that.

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