BERKLEY – With large blowup heads of Nolan Young, Joey Leider and Keith Waldrup bobbing through the student section, Berkley celebrated Senior Night and won its 40th hockey game in two years with a 9-2 victory over Auburn Hills Avondale on Friday.
Leider had two goals, Young and Waldrup controlled the defense, and the Bears improved to 18-5 overall and 10-2 in the OAA White Division.
“They wanted to come together for the seniors,” Berkley coach Jeff Fleming said Friday. “They are a tight group. They have 18 wins this year; we had 22 last year; back-to-back league titles. Really it’s coming in and working hard.”
Having already clinched the Oakland Activities Association White Division for a second straight year, Fleming said Senior Nights are not always easy for the players and a team with playoffs looming.
“These are difficult nights,” Fleming admitted. “The seniors are seeing this is coming to an end. (But) this senior class has been with us for a while now. We still have two more home games left (Canton on Wednesday and Livonia Churchill on Friday), but we are thinking Regionals (on Feb. 25). ”
Fleming said the Bears are “working on the little things right now.”
“Everything we do now is preparing for Grosse Pointe North,” Fleming said looking ahead to the U-D Jesuit Regional matchup with the powerful Norsemen.
On Friday, it looked like Berkley was thinking too much about the Regionals. The Bears took an early 1-0 lead when sophomore forward Max Dooley scored off a rebound shot from Leider at 14:37.
But Avondale (7-13-3) came right back and tied the game 1-1 when junior forward Patrick Riedy beat Berkley junior goalie Robert McDonald on a power play goal with Leider off for slashing.
McDonald was making his fourth appearance this season between the pipes for the Bears as Fleming rested junior Stephen Wroe.
“Robby comes in and works hard,” Fleming noted of his starting keeper on Friday.
But the game was played between the two opposing nets as Berkley went back to basics after a between periods pep talk from Fleming.
“In between the first and second periods we refocused,” said Waldrup, a senior defenseman. “Coach stressed we had to run the system.”
Young and Leider both laughed when Waldrup referred to “the system,” noting it’s a locker room behind closed doors thing at Berkley that equates into victories on the ice.
It worked Friday because Berkley got back into “the system” in the second period when Curtis Carne whistled a wrist shot past Avondale goalie Nikolas Senkowski for a 2-1 lead.
Ian Melrose, an exciting freshman forward, then gave the Bears a 3-1 advantage when he slipped behind the goal and stuffed in a wrap-around beating Senkowski’s skate to the goalpost.
It proved to be the winning goal as Melrose also added a short-handed goal in the third period for the Bears.
Riedy scored his second goal for the Yellow Jackets on a break-away with 43 seconds left in the second period to cut the Bears’ lead to 3-2, but Dooley scored his second goal of the night with just 6 ticks left to push the lead to 4-2.
The third period was all Berkley.
Sophomore forward Riley Lenhard, Melrose, junior defenseman Alex Rawlik, and Leider (2 goals) notched scores for the Bears, who rushed to the student and family section after the game to a generous standing ovation.
“It’s really been hard work,” Leider said. “We play for the chicks and the moms, and tonight it was for the moms.”
Young called it “bitter-sweet” on Friday to be playing on Senior Night in front of his hometown fans and family.
“High school is winding down and I’m excited it’s ending, but then again I’ve been playing since I was 5 years old, and the last four years here (at Berkley),” said Young.