By Greg Gielczyk
SCOTTVILLE — After struggling to score goals and win games, the Lakeshore Badgers co-op ice hockey team has suddenly caught fire and won four straight to pick up some much needed confidence as they get ready to kick off the playoffs.
Despite having said goodbye to their winning streak a couple of games ago, the Badgers are still scoring more frequently than in the past, and are still hopeful of making some noise in the post-season.
The Badgers, who have been low on numbers for some time now, and haven’t fielded a junior varsity team in several years, have so far not been affected by any COVID-19 outbreaks and been able to play each week.
Lakeshore graduated four seniors off last year’s squad, plus Evan McCarthy and Connor Rudzki to travel teams in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, respectively.
Staying out of the penalty box was also a problem for the Badgers, who often were their own worst enemy against some of the better teams on their schedule.
With three young skaters brought up from the Bantam team, coach Shriver knew it would take team for them to gain experience and adjust to the speed of varsity hockey.
It appears that has finally happened, and the team has taken off, scoring 26 goals in its last four games and has played a much cleaner game, avoiding the penalties they were committing.
“(Associate head coach) Parker (Rey) and I were talking, I think what we see is that we’ve kind of transitioned about things, to just executing,” coach Shriver said.
“The things that we’re doing in practice seem to be coming natural for them, and the guys are getting comfortable with each other, and they know where they are going to be.
“A lot these teams we’ve played multiple times, and the guys get a little comfortable, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. Nothing builds confidence more than scoring goals, even if you don’t win.”
Of the 10 skaters on the roster, five of them are sophomores or freshmen. When they first got on the ice they were like deer in the headlights against the older competition they faced.
That put a lot of pressure on the Badgers’ seniors, five on the ice and the coach’s son, Alex Shriver, in net.
Rounding out the senior contingent are Russell Schade (Mason County Central), Luke Larr (Ludington) and Sawyer Smith (Ludington).
“In the beginning, the younger guys tended to sit back and watch the older guys, and think ‘Well, they’ll take care of it.'” said coach Shriver. “‘They’ll go in the corner and get that puck, or they’ll forecheck or backcheck, and I’ll just have to watch.’
“Well, that’s not how it works. It’s a five-man thing. The seniors are bringing them along as well. They are including them. They are being a little more vocal with them, helping them and directing them.”
The leadership roles have been embraced by Schade, the team captain, and assistant captains Larr and Bear Lake junior Bryce Harless.
Shriver adds that the three have completely different personalities, Harless is quiet but is assertive and very physical on the ice, as is Larr who will also let a guy know if he’s not doing the right thing. and Scade lets his actions speak for themselves.
Manistee sophomore Gavin Rhodea was switched from a forward to a defenseman the last four games, and Shriver feels he’s a natural defenseman.
Rylan Mirretti, a junior from Ludington, isn’t a flashy type, but always seems to be in the right place, at the right time and has matured nicely.
A third player Shriver has been impressed with is Mason County Central junior Austin Quillan.
“He’s a defenseman for us, but he’s offensive minded because he’s played forward and we switched him to D last year,” Shriver said.
Every player on the team except for Rhodea has scored at least one goal this season, but he’s contributed several assists.
Schade and Quillan are the scoring leaders.
“It’s (the scoring) pretty evenly spread out, which is really nice,” said Shriver. “The freshmen are scoring. They are now engaged more than they were before.”
The Badgers are headed in the right direction at the right time.