by John Kennett
The Midland High hockey team took its first step Saturday toward what it hopes will be a third consecutive trip to the state semifinals.
The result, a 7-3 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice in Midland's season opener at the Midland Civic Arena, wasn't what the Chemics hoped for. However, Midland came away with a better understanding of where it needs to improve.
"We learned a lot playing a good team like that," said Chemics' goalie Keith Inman. "We have to work on breaking the puck out and playing well overall as a team. I thought we played the neutral zone pretty well and controlled the puck."
Chemics' coach Jeff Brown realizes there is still a lot of work ahead.
"There is plenty of room for improvement," he said. "We didn't quit. (Brother Rice) is one of the top teams year in and year out. This is not the end of the world. It's a tough loss, but it's a starting point."
Last year, the Chemics began the season with a 6-2 loss to Brother Rice before advancing to the Division 2 semifinals at Compuware Arena in Plymouth. Wyandotte Roosevelt beat Midland 6-0 in the semis before defeating Brother Rice for the championship.
"Coach wanted to have us tested early this year," said Midland senior forward Nick Mammel. "We certainly got that. You look at last year, it was the same test and we made it to the semifinals. You don't like today's result, but it is good for us."
Two years ago, Midland reached the Division 2 final and lost 3-2 to Trenton.
The Chemics will try to get back to the semifinals without last year's leading scorer, Will Vosejpka, who has chosen to skip his senior season to play for the Compuware U18 team.
Saturday, the Chemics jumped in front on a goal by Sam Gannon just 1:44 into the game. The senior forward redirected a shot by Philip Parks and got it past Warriors' goalie John Bowman.
That lead stood up for the rest of the period as Inman held Brother Rice off the board, even though the Warriors held an 11-5 shots on goal advantage in the first period.
"Keith played pretty well," said Brown. "When the puck was in our end for a long time, he made several saves and held us in there. He is going to have to do that for us this year."
Mammel gave the Chemics a 2-0 lead with 13:59 left in the second period. Jason Regier found himself behind the net with the puck and pushed it out to Mammel, who slammed it into the net.
"This team flies around," said Mammel, who is in his fourth year on the team. "We're a little inexperienced, but we can play with the best of them. We've got 13 new guys this season and they bring a lot of excitement. Before the game, they were ready to go. Last year, it was a veteran team, but this year, it's a party every time you come to the rink. It's a lot of fun."
However, the Warriors, who came in with three games under their belts, responded with a goal just 22 seconds later by Hunter Clark, and teammate Thomas Ebbing's power play goal tied the game at the 11:17 mark of the second.
"We still need to work on our positioning and turnovers," said Mammel. "They caught us out of position a few times."
With 10 minutes left in the second period, Mammel raced down the left wing all alone and shot the puck. Ryan Singer got the rebound and shoved it back toward the goal, and Mammel stuffed the second rebound past Bowman for a 3-2 lead with 9:50 left in the period.
"Nick had a decent game," said Brown. "We're going to need more out of (the returning players)."
However, a tiring Chemics' team couldn't keep up with the crisp passes and speed of its opponents, as Brother Rice got goals from Andrew Roye, T.J. Petzold and Mackenzie MacEachern to take a 5-3 lead into the final period.
"We've been working pretty hard, but you can't simulate a game (in practice) against a good, fast team," said Brown. "If we are going to be successful, it will be a team effort and it will start with hustle."
In the second period, the Warriors had a 23-5 shots on goal advantage.
"We need to do the little things right," said Brown. "We got caught a couple times today with minor breakdowns that turned into goals."
Goals in the final period by Jonathan Reschke and Jonathan Zalecki sealed the win for the Warriors (2-2).
Overall, Brother Rice held a 43-18 shots on goal advantage.
"Our defense played pretty well," said Inman. "(Brother Rice) just rushed the puck in."
The Chemics (0-1) head to the Bay County Civic Arena Wednesday for a game with the Bay City Wolves.
NOTE: The MHSAA has increased each period from 15 minutes to 17 minutes this season.