Buckeyes’ Cinderella story falls short
Miles Mac rallies in Tier 2 playoffs, but lose deciding game
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This article was published 02/03/2018 (1850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Miles Macdonell Buckeyes boys hockey team didn’t have the season they’d hoped for when they moved up to the Winnipeg High School Hockey League Platinum Promotions A Division.
The Buckeyes managed only five wins and two shootout losses for 17 points during the regular season. But they peaked when it mattered, and took what they’d learned throughout the year to rally in the playoffs. The Buckeyes played their way into the division’s Tier 2 final, only to lose to the Springfield Sabres in the third and deciding game of the best-of-three series.
Still, the team and its coach took heart in their playoff run.
“I’ve been saying the same things all year, I think they decided to listen,” said Gordon Fritzsche, head coach of the Buckeyes. “The kids decided that they didn’t want to go out like we had done in a lot of games in the season. They all bought in.”
With the top six teams in the A Division playing for the championship, the remaining eight battled for the Tier 2 championship banner.
“The season was kind of a bust, and we wanted to prove everyone wrong and make a run,” said James Clyke, a Grade 12 centre for the Buckeyes. “Nobody expected us to get here. I’m proud to say we’ve been able to accomplish.”
“When we played in regular season, we sort of played like individuals,” added Liam Eori, a Grade 11 Buckeyes forward. “We wouldn’t pass, would take too long of shifts. We weren’t working as well together. I think we just realized we needed to play as a team if we were going to go anywhere.”
Springfield had finished the regular season with 10 wins, two overtime losses and a shootout loss for 33 points. Miles Mac played them hard but the Sabres eventually won out, taking the deciding game 5-1.
“They’re good,” Clyke said. “They’re really good defensively, they’re good at blocking shots, and they’re really talented offensively.”
The Buckeyes took the first game, blanking the Springfield squad 2-0 on Feb. 26. Goaltender Brandon Kowalchuk earned the shutout.
“He has been awesome,” Fritzsche said. “He’s bailed us out when we’ve needed it, kept us in games and allowed us to win games.”
“(He’s) been playing phenomenally,” Eori added.
But with their backs to the wall, Springfield bounced back on Feb. 27 to win 3-2.
“It’s tough when you’re up a game, no matter what you say you have that comfort level,” Fritzsche said. “They didn’t and they came out with more urgency.”
“We didn’t play our game in the second,” Eori said. “We had thoughts that we’d be champions.”
“We got hemmed into our zone a little more, and it was harder for us to play,” Clyke added.
While the final result may have been hard to swallow, the Buckeyes proved they could hang with the best in the division.
“It’s been a good experience, good group of guys,” Eori said of the season as a whole. “Since Day 1, our coach believed in us.”
To get to the final, the Buckeyes got the best of Dakota in two games in the quarter-final, winning 3-2 on Feb. 14 and 4-2 on Feb. 15 to advance to the semi against Oak Park.
They lost their first tilt to the Raiders 4-1 on Feb. 21, only to rally back with a 5-3 win on Feb. 22 to force a deciding game on Feb. 23, which the Buckeyes won 4-3 in a dramatic finish. Eori scored the winning goal in a shootout.
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