Young Buckeyes squad learns hard lessons
Miles Mac boys look to build on tough season
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This article was published 09/02/2018 (1941 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a tough season for the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes. But nobody said life in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s Platinum Promotions ‘A’ Division would be easy.
“I knew there’d be a learning curve,” head coach Gordon Fritzsche said. “I understood there’d be some bumps. This wasn’t the path that I’d envisioned but I like where we’re at now.”
Heading into their final game of the year, a Feb. 9 tilt against Oak Park, the Buckeyes were second-last in the WHSHL’s 14-team top division. With only five wins to their credit, Fritzsche said the team is better than its record.
“Most of the games in the new year we’ve been very competitive,” Fritzsche said.
In the seven games since the Christmas break, the Buckeyes have won four, including a 6-1 drubbing of neighbourhood rivals River East, who at press time were 21 points ahead of Miles Mac in the standings.
“Early on, we had a lot of self-destructing, in terms mostly of penalties, not knowing how to close out games. We blew a lot of leads,” Fritzsche said. “In this division, you can’t make those mistakes and win.”
“We had a good effort all year, just couldn’t rack up the Ws,” said Aaron Neilson, a Grade 10 forward in his second year with the squad. “We had good defense and goaltending. Usually, we lost because of penalties we took. ”
Veteran defenseman Riley Choboter, a Grade 12 player with six assists and 10 penalty minutes in 21 games ahead of Feb. 9, said that lack of discipline and frustration at getting hemmed in their own end contributed to the Buckeyes’ penalty woes this year.
“We’re able to make good on rushes, and if we can format a play we had some success,” he said. “With our penalty troubles, teams were able to capitalize a lot on the power play.”
While Neilson notched two goals, five assists and 16 PIMs in his 21 games, the self-described playmaker felt like he hadn’t played as well this season as he would have liked. But with playoffs coming up, he’s hoping he can turn that around.
“I’m looking to put the puck in the net a little more for the boys,” Neilson said.
Fritzsche explained that the top six teams will play for the division championship, while the bottom eight compete in a full round of playoffs for a sort of “second tier” championship.
“We feel confident about any one of these eight teams,” Fritzsche said.
Based on the Buckeyes record, the team will be taking on the eight-place team in the division. At press time, the standings were too close to call, but a matchup with Dakota, Oak Park, or Garden City looked likely.
“We’re going to have to work hard and move the puck well,” Neilson said. “We can’t take as many penalties. If we play physical and strong in the D-zone we’ll do alright.”
Regardless of how the Buckeyes do in the playoffs, Fritzsche said he’s already looking forward to next season.
“We’ll lose some key guys, like very year,” he said. “But the core should be back. That’s what kept me motivated, knowing these guys have learned these lessons now for next season.”
“We’ll all be older, so we’ll know better,” Neilson agreed.
“What we’re trying to do at Miles Mac is push the program into the top of high school hockey, to be an A division competitor all the time,” Fritzsche added. “It was a struggle this year, but I think long term it’s going to be good.”
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112