TROY — Last year was the rebuild, the restacking of a program undergoing a major youth movement.
Joe Barone and the Troy Athens hockey team survived it.
Now, a year later, he’s starting to see some of the payoff.
By winter’s end, he’s expecting a league title.
“We’re not rebuilding here anymore — we’re relearning, so to speak, for the first month or so,” Barone said last week before a game against Waterford Mott. “But after that, we’re going for it.”
He spoke prior to his team’s Nov. 21 home game against Waterford Mott.
At that point, his guys had won one lopsided game and dropped another.
As the night unfolded and the toughest game of the season played out, Athens escaped with a 7-5 victory on the heels of five goals by Nathan Gurzell.
“It’s good to get a win like this,” Barone said afterward. “We had to fight and play a pretty good team all the way through. It was a three-period game that we needed to be a part of.”
It was just one win, but it served as the model Barone and his guys know they have to emulate as the season moves on.
They are far from perfection, but finding a way.
“We’re a work in progress,” Gurzell said. “But the goal is to get better as the year moves forward.”
Athens was just 6-18-0 a year ago and ended the winter in a 3-1 pre-regional loss to Troy High.
But a good deal of the 2011-12 roster has returned, and although the team is still relatively young with just six seniors, expectations are on the rise — in time.
“I think this team has a chance to be much better than last year,” Baron said. “The guys we brought back came in much stronger than they were a year ago. Then, we had some other guys join the team that look strong already. … We’re going to have to have patience early on. Wins and losses are important, but the thing we want right now is consistency and hard work.”
“Disciplined, smart hockey, that’s the key for us right now,” senior Cory Faw said. “... There’s a lot of potential on this team.”
At press time, Athens was 4-1-0.
“I like to think this is a team that can compete for a division title,” Barone added. “Berkley will probably be the team to beat, with their goalie and the guys they brought back. Troy will always be tough, and you have some other teams that will be in the mix. But I like the way things look. I really think once we put everything together, this is a team that can make a run.”