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February 5, 2014

Troy and Athens hockey teams set to collide, with White Division on the line

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Griffin Rocheleau, right, moves the puck away from Troy’s Bob Urban during the season’s first meeting. Athens won the Dec. 14 game 2-1.

TROY — True rivalry games beg for records to be tossed aside.

It’s the passion, the history and the rivalry that fuels some of the best games between teams with a notable past.

But as Saturday afternoon approaches, keeping the records in the conversation will only make this better — if that’s even possible.

“As far as the league is concerned, this is going to be huge,” Troy High hockey coach Tim Zimmerman said of his team’s 1 p.m. battle with Troy Athens, set for Feb. 8 at the Troy Sports Center. “If I had to guess, I’d say the winner of this game probably wins the division.”

“While we’ve both slipped up just a bit lately. I think both teams feel the need to win out when it comes to league games,” Athens coach Joe Barone said. “That means we need a win over our biggest rival.”

It’s been a while since the Colts and Red Hawks met during the regular season with this much on the line.

At press time, Troy was 16-2-0 overall, in fourth place in the Oakland Activities Association White Division with a 5-2-0 mark and 10 points.

Athens was 13-4-2 overall and 5-1-2 in the White, tied for first with 12 points.

The Red Hawks do have a slight advantage in the game, having won the first meeting 2-1 Dec. 14.

Prior to a 3-2 loss to Royal Oak High on Jan. 29, that was the only loss of the season for Troy, which had a seven-game win streak to start the year and an eight-game streak broken by the Ravens.

“They played a real good game and limited our second chances the first time around,” Zimmerman said of the Athens loss. “I like our effort. I thought we played a good game, well enough to win. But (Athens) did all the little things needed to win that game.”

“I think our goaltender was the difference,” Barone said of the first game, in which Jeff Merola made 44 saves and helped Troy stay scoreless on five power-play chances. “We felt good after that game, but I also think the guys knew we were lucky to get a win there.”

Roughly two months later, the rematch ensues with both teams even stronger and much more on the line.

Athens plays Avondale and Bloomfield Hills High to close out division play, while Troy, which played Avondale Feb. 5, after press time, has three road games remaining — at West Bloomfield High, at Bloomfield and at Birmingham Unified.

“I think (the records and standings) certainly add to the excitement this game generates,” Zimmerman said. “Both teams have played so well this year. You’re not going to have a blowout or anything like that. It’s going to be a good game — at least that’s what we expect.”

Zimmerman said generating second chances will be key for his guys, who did get 45 shots in the first game but only a handful from around the net.

For Athens, the approach will be similar.

“I think second chances will be huge, which, in turn, comes back to goaltending and which team can protect its net better,” Barone said. “This is a big game, in the sense of what it could mean for the winner. I think 18 points, roughly, will win the division. The team that wins this game is going to have the upper hand on the title.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.