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December 4, 2013

After 22-win season, Shrine hockey team takes aim at bigger goals

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Shrine’s Drake Eckert said making a name for the program in the state playoffs is one of the team’s main goals this year.

ROYAL OAK — Swift, abrupt and on the very first night.

After a 22-win regular season, that’s how the 2013 playoff tournament came to an end for the Royal Oak Shrine hockey team.

So much winning had led up to a Division 3 preregional showdown with Country Day, and confidence was soaring.

But the Knights were outmatched, outplayed and thoroughly dominated in a 7-2 finish.

“It took a great season and put a very disappointing end on top,” coach AJ Plaskey said. “It was a tough way to end.”

“We had such a good season,” senior Josh Essensa said before a Nov. 25 practice, “and then it was just over.”

Plaskey and his guys are attempting to take a lesson from that final loss, though, and the one that came before it.

The Knights were 22-4-0 last winter, but half of those setbacks came on the brightest stages of the season.

The Country Day loss ended things, but the third loss came at Joe Louis Arena in the Catholic League final to a Riverview Gabriel Richard team that Shrine had already beaten twice that year.

Was it a case of bad luck or were the Knights just not ready for games with that sort of intensity?

“It’s tough to say, but there were games that we won 7-0 last year, and it wasn’t like we were at our best,” Essensa said of Shrine’s schedule.

“This season is going to be different,” Plaskey said. “We’ve toughened up the schedule a lot.

“So, the record may not be the same,” Plaskey continued, “but we may be a better team.”

Only five players graduated when last season ended.

Of the 20 guys on the roster, 17 have varsity experience.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Knights were taking the ice with 13 total, which is why the need and desire to prove something this year may be stronger than ever.

“We’ve been building this program for a while,” Essensa said. “Now, we want to make a name for Shrine when it comes to hockey.”

The beefed-up schedule should, at least, prepare the Knights for the higher-profiled games where they struggled last winter.

In Division II of the Catholic League, they are still a favorite to reach the final.

Once the state playoffs start, Shrine will be in a group with Farmington High, Country Day, Allen Park High, Divine Child and Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.

“It starts with the Catholic League,” junior Drake Eckert said. “We want to make up for last year’s loss. After that, the place to make a name for yourself is in the (state) playoffs.”

Along with the Catholic League schedule, Plaskey has games set up against teams like Rockford High, a squad from Ohio twice, and St. Clair Shores Unified, for example.

Last year’s record, more than anything, guarantees Shrine won’t sneak up on anyone anymore.

“Duplicating the success won’t be easy, but if we can find the consistency, it’s attainable,” Plaskey said. Shrine was 1-1 at press time, after beating Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 3-0 and falling to Troy High 3-2. “This is a big year for our program. Obviously, we have a chance to really validate this program. … We do that by getting back to the league final and making a run in the playoffs.”

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