If two out of three ain’t bad, then five out of seven is downright respectable.
The Michigan Warriors enjoyed their best weekend since crossing the Mighty Mac, sweeping powerful Motor City during a two-game series in metropolitan Detroit, and improving to 5-2 since the beginning of October.
“This kind of thing does take a while,” said Warriors head coach Moe Mantha, who joined the club this summer after the organization relocated from Marquette, Mich. to Flint. “These guys have a new coach, a new GM, new billets, new schools, a new 4,000-seat arena, and they’re more spread out in a bigger city than where the team came from. It just takes a while to get acclimated to something like that.”
The Warriors didn’t exactly struggle out of the gates this year, starting 3-4-1, but started to turn their game up a notch against perennial NAHL powerhouse St. Louis on Oct. 16. Scott Henegar and Justin Hoomaian scored goals 19 seconds apart in the final half-minute to force overtime, and Ryan Trez sealed the comeback victory in the ninth round of a shootout at Perani Arena.
Last weekend, Michigan shifted into an even higher gear, downing geographic rival Motor City in two different affairs: Friday’s lockdown 3-1 win and a 7-5 Saturday night shootout triumph.
A group of veterans who led Marquette to the North Division regular-season title in 2009-10, also powered the Warriors against the Metal Jackets. Forward Brad Chapman - a Marquette native - offered a goal and three assists on the weekend, while Henegar (two goals), Andrew Kolb (goal assist), and Bobby Bodette (goal, assist) also chipped in on the scoresheet. Local product Robert Tadazak (Lapeer, Mich.) made 33 saves on Friday to post his fourth victory of the season.
The Warriors could be even more potent upon the return of captain and NAHL North veteran Austin Accettura, who is nearing a return from injury.
“We’re a good skating team that really works hard,” Matha assessed. “We’re a pretty young team, too; we average around 18 years old. We’re still not there yet, but we’re starting to settle in and get acclimated.”
For his part, Mantha has the luxury of drawing upon a rich array of experiences accrued during a 14-year NHL career. The two-way defenseman played for Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Minnesota (North Stars) and Philadelphia, scoring 81 goals and assisting on 289 others over 656 NHL games.
“Right now, the thing I try to impart to the kids is to impress upon them the importance of understanding the focus and concentration needed, and the practice habits required to have success at this level and beyond,” Mantha explained. “With our younger guys, we can get ourselves in trouble when the focus isn’t there or we lose concentration even for a minute.”
Michigan will enjoy playing host for its next five games, starting with this weekend’s rematch with Motor City. Traverse City visits the following weekend, and Port Huron helps wrap the Warriors’ homestand on Nov. 19.
“We’re just going to keep trying to play together each night out, one game at a time,” Mantha added. “The key is to work together - that’s our mission.”
NORTH DIVISION NOTEBOOK
CHICAGO HITMEN: The Hitmen returned from a weekend off by claiming a pair of one-goal contests from visiting Springfield, including a 5-4 overtime thriller on Saturday. Joe Graveline picked a good time to score his first goal with Chicago, bagging the game-winner with a mere seven seconds left in overtime to cap the two-game sweep. Nicholas Kohn worked both ends of the series for the Hitmen, turning aside 86 shots, including eight in OT against the Jr. Blues.
JANESVILLE JETS: David Jacobson was essentially unsolvable this weekend as the Jets climbed to within two points of the North Division penthouse with a two-game sweep of visiting Traverse City. The Janesville native rebuffed all 26 shots he saw in a 4-0 shutout of the North Stars in the series lid-lifter on Saturday, and reprised his excellence in a Sunday matinee with 26 more stops in a 3-2 triumph, 14 of which came in the third period. Jacobson earned SBK Hockey NAHL Goaltender of the Week honors.
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: The score-happy Jackets were busy with a three-game, two-venue weekend that wrapped with a 5-1 victory over visiting Port Huron. Motor City is averaging 4.61 goals per game - second in the NAHL (Fairbanks, 4.71) - led by forward Cody Wydo. The Wyandotte, Mich., product scored thrice and assisted on two others over the weekend. He was named SBK North Player of the Week for his efforts.
PORT HURON FIGHTING FALCONS: The Falcons will spend Halloween weekend on the road visiting Traverse City for a Friday-Saturday series. Adam Frank, who hails from nearby Clarkston, Mich., leads the birds with eight points (seven assists) in 11 outings.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: The North leaders stepped outside the division last weekend, visiting South power Topeka and splitting a pair with their geographic rivals. The Roadrunners struck for a victory on Saturday, but the Bandits rode the backstopping of Tom Comunale to a 3-0 shutout on Saturday. Six different players scored St. Louis’ six goals over the weekend, and the Bandits retain a two-point edge over Janesville in the North standings.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: The Blues salvaged a point in a weekend series at Chicago in clutch fashion on Saturday, closing a two-goal gap in the final minutes, including T.J. Poganski’s extra-attacker goal with 27 second to play in regulation. Blueliner Jack Callahan is second among NAHL defenseman in scoring (18 points) and assists (14), and tops with three game-winning goals.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: The Stars welcome Port Huron to Centre ICE Arena for the first time ever this weekend, as the expansion Fighting Falcons seek their initial victory. Traverse City has played a paltry 12 games to date, but will wedge nine games between Halloween and Thanksgiving weekend.