By Greg Gielczyk  

On paper, the ice hockey pre-regional (or quarterfinal) matchup between Reeths-Puffer and the Lakeshore Badgers co-op teams would appear to be pretty evenly matched.  

That could make for a close game to decide who moves on to the next level. The two have similar records for the 7:30 p.m. MHSAA Division 2 first round game at Mona Shores rink on Wednesday.  

Reeths-Puffer comes in at 5-17-1, while the Badgers have used a strong finish in the last couple weeks of the season to produce a 6-15 ledger, including a four-game winning streak before dropping two straight.  

Neither team possesses much of a scouting report on the other, besides the fact they’ve played a couple of common opponents, including Northview, Big Rapids and East Kentwood.  

“You can’t always compare games, it’s a little like apples to oranges,” said Rockets first-year head coach Ryan Martin. “But we’re looking forward to the test, for sure.  

“Our team has been up and down. I’m a first-year varsity coach, so we’ve had a bit of a transition period. I think our schedule was a pretty tough one.  

“I think we played six or eight state-ranked teams throughout the season, and in some of those games we’ve been highly competitive, and in others we haven’t been.”  

But the Rockets have played much better in the last five to seven games, and Martin is excited about their prospects of making some noise in the playoffs.  

Martin feels the biggest improvement is that all of the players are starting to come together, and following the game plan more efficiently.  

The Rockets began the season with an equal complement of older, experienced players and newcomers who had to be brought up to speed.  

Senior captains Andrew Bouwan, Nick Fuller and Gavin Viereck have been big leaders. But the Rockets have five other seniors as well.  

“I have two solid goalies, and we’re comfortable going with either one,” Martin says.  

One is sophomore Isaiah Van Noord and the other is junior Tanner Bongernoor who have pretty well split time evenly throughout the season. The bulk of the scoring for the Rockets has been done by seniors Josh Shafer, Bouwan and Fuller.  

“We really just look to be fast, get a ton of shots and then see what we can get from there,” Martin said. “We really try to be tough in the defensive end and through the neutral zone, and let the offense come from there.”  

Despite losing io Sandusky, 6-3 in their last regular season game, Badgers head coach Bill Shriver felt the team recovered from a sluggish start for a strong finish.  

Sandusky took a 3-0 lead in the first period, but the Badgers rallied to close to within one, 4-3 before giving up two late goals. Senior defenseman Bryce Harless (Bear Lake) scored two of the Badgers’ goals.  

“What we need to have happen, is our younger guys need to have a good game,” Shriver said. “Our younger guys need to hold up their end of the deal.  

“I know what I get out of the first line. It’s just a question if the second line can hold up, and be smart defensively, because they tend to spend more time in the ‘D’ zone than our first line does.  

“As long as they can be smart in the ‘D’ zone, and get through their shift basically, and clear when we can, then I think we’ll have a chance.”  

Senior forward Russell Schade (Mason County Central), one of the team captains, is definitely the catalyst for the Badgers. Another senior, Luke Larr (Ludington), carries the load as the team’s best defenseman.  

Lakeshore’s leading scorer is junior defenseman Austin Quillan (Mason County Central). The wild card has always been Harless, who can make a difference if he’s engaged.  

“What makes that happen for Bryce is opportunities,” said Shriver. “If he gets opportunities, or he scores a goal, he’s a completely different player.  

“It’s like you put fresh batteries in him, and he just goes, and his really engaged.”  

Alex Shriver, the coach’s son and a senior, has started every game but one in goal for the Badgers.  

“He’s been a rock all year,” the coach says. “He’s been a rock for three years. You know what you’re going to get out of Alex. It’s comforting to know he’s there.  

“They’re going to have to get it past him. He’s not going to give them anything.”  

Lakeshore is still looking for its first playoff win. The team began as the Manistee Chippewas back in 2002.