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Mt. Pleasant High School hockey players share a moment together during a game Dec. 13, 2013, versus Saginaw Heritage. (Courtesy photo)
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PREP HOCKEY: Mt. Pleasant hoping to build on two-game winning streak after the holiday season
Mt. Pleasant sophomore defender Alex Dickinson brings the puck across the blue line Dec. 13, 2013, against Saginaw Heritage. (Courtesy photo)
After winning only once and tying twice over its first nine games this season, the Mt. Pleasant High School hockey program could look back at last year around the same time to realize nothing was a lost cause.
It was during the 2012-13 campaign that the Oilers won only once prior to the holiday break and had a 1-8 record in early January before going on a roll, eventually recording seven wins and a tie over their last 11 games.
Among those wins included the first postseason wins in program history as Mt. Pleasant advanced to a regional final before being eliminated by Flint Powers.
But the graduation of some very key contributors to that team including Nick Coscarelly and Daniel Pulver was going to be difficult to overcome, plus the Oilers lost now-senior goalie Adam Salisbury as he found an opportunity to play junior hockey.
In addition, Mt. Pleasant went through a coaching transition heading into this season as Mike Willett has taken over for previous coach Alex Weisenberger.
Needless to say, with a lot of inexperience on the roster plus some new coaching philosophies a repeat of last season’s early struggles was not out of the question.
The Oilers, however, have found a bit of magic this season before the holidays as they have now won their last two games to improve to 3-6-2.
Mt. Pleasant topped Tri-Valley Wednesday at its home I.C.E. Arena by a final of 4-2 on the strength of two goals by senior Robert Backus, while it then continued its recent winning ways Saturday as sophomore Zach Heeke scored a pair of goals to lead the Oilers to a 5-4 win at Okemos.
“We’re just trying to get better and if we do that, we’ll be as good as we can be,” Willett said. “We’re not trying to compare ourselves to last year or any other team. We are who we are and we just have to be better every day.”
With a nice mix of experienced veterans such as four-year varsity performers in Backus along with some very talented underclassmen like Zach Heeke as well as freshman goalie Aaron Friedlein and freshman defenseman Kaleb Ramon, Mt. Pleasant appears to be achieving Willett’s goal of improving each day.
“We have a new coach and we are still trying to iron out some of the kinks, but I think the (Tri-Valley) game was a big step in doing that,” said Backus, who had to make the quick transition from starting quarterback on the gridiron to captain on the ice. “We really think we have a lot to build off with that game.”
It was clear Backus knew what he was talking about as his comments came prior to Saturday’s Okemos game as Mt. Pleasant continued its recent string of success to go into the holidays with some momentum they did not have a season ago.
Backus currently has four goals on the season, while his linemate in Heeke has a team-high eight goals.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always kind of started slow and took some time to find our rhythm,” Backus said. “That’s all we’ve been trying to do, just find our rhythm.”
Heeke spoke of the chemistry he has with Backus, which has continued to grow over the course of the 11 games played this season.
“We have really great chemistry,” Heeke said. “We work together in practice all the time. At school, we are walking together and talking about what we are going to do in the next game. To have a guy like Robert who is a senior leader on our team and helping me out and helping the team out, it’s great to have a guy like him on the team.
The two-game winning streak for the Oilers came directly after a pair of games that they lost in lopsided fashion, both of which ended early due to goal differential.
“This was a huge stepping stone for us because we got mercied the last two games,” Heeke said. “We got beaten badly by two great teams, don’t get me wrong. But for us, we had to move past that and this was a huge step forward for our team.”
While the Oilers had some proven goal scorers on the roster heading into this season, there was not a proven goaltender and that posed a problem.
At first Willett was concerned, but it was not a lasting feeling.
“I was nervous early on because I hadn’t seen (Friedlein) play, but when I saw him play I thought ‘Holy cow, were not that bad,’” Willett said. Then Nick Burkholder said he was going to play goalie for us too and I said, ‘Shoot, I have nothing to worry about.’”
Friedlein has been in goal each of the last two wins, showing tremendous footwork for a freshman and has allowed just six goals on a total of 52 shots.
He also has some defensemen who clearly go to battle for him in front of the net, including Ramon who ended the Tri-Valley game with a bloody chin.
“Just the look of a hockey player,” Ramon joked.
Ramon had two assists in the victory over Tri-Valley and has been “like an upperclassman” this season in terms of the way he carries himself on and off the ice according to Willett.
The way Ramon sees it, he is just trying to fit in and do his part to help the team.
“I just try to do what I do and try to help build the team to what we want to achieve,” Ramon said.
Mt. Pleasant returns to action Jan. 8 at home when it hosts Flushing in a key conference matchup. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
Last Updated: 12/26/2013 3:35:58 PM EST