Ranger hockey shrugs off a slow start and finishes the year 7-11 with Regional championship loss

Ranger hockey shrugs off a slow start and finishes the year 7-11 with Regional championship loss

It seems like just yesterday that the new era of FHC hockey players kicked off their 2021 winter season. Now, after a long pushback of winter sports due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Rangers finished their shortened season with a bang.

Former coach of the Rangers, Kevin Zaschak, stepped down before the season along with many of the assistant coaching staff. This gave light for new head coach Bill McSween to take the keys to a budding Ranger Hockey program. Along with McSween, new coaches Tate Ferris, Will Synder, Matt Kaludis, and Chris Summers joined the staff.

Hardships did face the coaching staff early, but it did not phase the new guys.

“The hardest part was getting to know the players and learning about each and every individual while also learning about the whole team,” Coach McSween said. “We overcame by being honest, trusting each other, and working hard.”

To begin the season, Lowell/Caledonia came to Patterson Ice Arena to kick things off in early February. The Rangers fell short in this one, being shut out by a score of 4-0. FHC’s opening weekend had three games slated for the team. The first game against Mona Shores opened up the season with a tough loss, as the Rangers fell short by a score of 7-2. FHC then followed up its loss with a big non-conference victory against Big Rapids, winning 6-2. After their doubleheader on a Saturday against Big Rapids, the Rangers played a game against Mona on Valentine’s Day to end the long weekend. There was not too much brotherly love spread out in this one, as Mona Shores finished off the Rangers by a score of 6-1.

Early on in the year, it was apparent that the underclassmen on this squad were primed to make a big impact on the team.

“This season we had a lot of new kids come on the team, but we had some of the younger guys step up and help,” junior Josh Smith remarked. “A big part of that was from Sammy Mielock who led the team in points, along with Anthony Ott who helped add depth to the roster.”

Without a glue-guy to anchor the team’s flashy scorers, success is difficult to find in the sport of hockey.

“There was also freshman Ryan Sutherlund who got a lot of minutes in and was one of the hardest workers on the team,” Josh explained.

With that, Josh was one of the biggest players to take his game to the next level. He and fellow juniors Connor Defouw and Lucas Jefferys led one of the top defenses in the conference. Combined with seniors Collin Ward and Jack Fitzgibbons, these five allowed a much easier life for senior goalie Gavin Brady. Because of a stalwart defensive rotation in front of the net, Gavin spent most of the season in the goal for the Rangers.

Coach McSween had high praise for the three defensemen, as they will all likely be very important keys to success next season.

“Those three players brought it every day, and they each have something special to bring to the team and were able to do so daily,” Coach McSween stated. “I expect big things from them over the summer and going into next year because they all have so much room to grow.”

Although the Rangers remained one of the best defenses, struggles still hit the team hard and early. The next two games for FHC would have them in matchups with two of the top teams in the state. The Rangers would be faced with both Hartland and Byron Center in back-to-back games. The game against Hartland would be the better game of the two, as the Rangers lost 8-0. The Byron Center game would see the highest amount of goals given up on the season by FHC, with the final score being 9-1.

The problem that caused the Rangers such large deficits would come from the ever-changing power play.

“The power play changed a lot over the year, but throughout all the change we found some systems that worked out great. We had a lot of kids go on and off of the power play this year. With the kids going on and off the power play we had to change up the formation a couple of times. In the end, we found what worked for our team and it went very well,” Lucas Jeffreys said when asked about the early-season struggles. “We had some big goals come from our power plays during this season, just trying to find ourselves. Next year will be better for sure because we have just made the foundation to our great power play.”

In the end, it seems like Coach McSween figured out an efficient power play to bolster FHC’s chances at success. The Rangers held their opponents to four goals and under in all but one of the last twelve games they played. The next two games after the major losses ended in a victory for FHC, the first being a 4-1 win over East Grand Rapids and the second being a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids Christian.

Coach McSween took the wins as a time to motivate the team and turn things around.

“Our team stuck together, took ownership, and kept working hard each and every day to get better,” Coach McSween said. “Excuses are an ignorant man’s way of building monuments of nothing.”

After winning two games, the Ranger icemen faced another setback and dropped their next two. Earning a rematch with EGR was apparently not the best scenario for FHC, as revenge played a significant role. The Pioneers topped FHC 4-1 in the contest, reversing the score from the last game. Coming off a disappointing defeat against EGR, the first game of the back-to-back series with Forest Hills Northern/Eastern ended in a loss for the Rangers by a score of 4-1. However, the Rangers came back hungry and won 2-1 in the next match-up.

At the end of the regular season for the Rangers, they squared off with a few familiar foes and one team that the Rangers would be previewing against. The first game ended in a rematch loss at the hands of Lowell/Caledonia by a score of 2-1. Secondly, Grand Rapids Catholic Central hosted the Rangers on their senior night and prevented a spoiled celebration by winning in a 4-0 shutout. After taking two losses, the Rangers bounced back and won 5-0 in a rematch against GR Christian. The regular season ended in a brutal way, as FHC gave up five straight goals in a very chippy game against Rockford in which Sammy Mielock would be ejected, earning him a two-game suspension for playoffs.

Although the Rangers were without their leading goal scorer for the postseason, FHC pulled off an impressive playoff run by defeating Mattawan 3-1 in their first matchup. The team then proceeded to move on to snag a 2-1 season advantage over EGR after defeating the Pioneers by a score of 4-1. Sadly for the Ranger skaters, this is where the improbable run came to an abrupt stop. A rematch in a very tight game against CC cut short FHC’s playoff run, and it dropped the game in a 4-2 defeat.

In terms of the season stat leaders, the goal leader for the team was Sammy Mielock. Sammy also led the team in points with 16 (10 goals, six assists). Other notable stat collectors for the Rangers this season were Lucas Jefferys with 10 (3 goals, 7 assists), Jacob Campbell with nine (5 goals, 4 assists), Xavier Ott with nine (2 goals, 7 assists), Josh Smith with seven (6 goals, 1 assist), and Collin Ward with five (1 goal, 4 assists.)

Vital morale-boosters for the underclassmen, Jack Fitzgibbons, Xavier Ott, Collin Ward, Jacob Campbell, Gavin Brady, Ryan Demeter, Deacon Lobdell, Sam Cooper, and Nick Burley will be truly missed.

“I think the impact our senior class left on the team was that even though we were huge underdogs all season and not expected to win at all, we can still work hard, win some games. and make a playoff run with less talent than other teams,” Collin Ward said.  He along with Demeter, Fitz, and Campbell led the team and always kept spirits high.

The underclassmen on the team outnumbered the senior class 13-9 which is a fairly decent ratio, but a little lighter than a coach would like to see. Hopes remain high for next season, as Collin Ward also had a lot to say after he and many other upperclassmen took important leadership roles.

“Because our team had a lot of underclassmen, the guys who were on the previous years knew we had to step up and boost the confidence of the younger guys,” Collin admitted. “They did a great job of stepping up.”

The Rangers will look to come back next year even stronger and hopefully start the season on time instead of two to three months after the initial starting date.