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Berkley, Ferndale

Bears sit in driver’s seat to claim second straight OAA White title

January 23, 2013

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Joey Leider, left, battles with Nolan Young during a practice last week at the Berkley Ice Arena. At press time, the Bears were alone in first place in the OAA White.

It’s the one temptation his team has to avoid at all cost, the single most-repeated message he plans on hammering home for the remainder of the regular season.

Complacency, or the lack there of, actually, may serve as the difference between a league title and a could-have-been finish for the Berkley-Ferndale Unified hockey team.

Destiny, in every regard, is now solely in the Bears’ hands.

“We’re in a position you love to be in,” Unified coach Jeff Fleming said before a Jan. 15 practice at the Berkley Ice Arena. “Our first goal every year is to compete for that league title, and to control your own fate, so to speak, is what you aim for.”

Halfway through the regular season, Fleming said he was “happy” with where his team was.

With an 11-3-0 overall record, and 6-1-0 mark in the Oakland Activities Association White Division, the Bears were on pace to almost equal last year’s win total and hold the key for a second straight league crown.

“But, if you look at the guys we have back this year, and you consider the 22 wins we had last year, this is a group that’s won a lot of hockey games,” he added. “It could be very easy to get complacent at this point.”

The 22-3-2 mark set a program record for wins in a season, while the division title was the first since 2006.

And with All-State goalie Stephen Wroe and leading scorer Joey Leider back in the mix, few can be surprised with the results, so far.

“You like what we’ve done, but you still have to put everything on the line in what we have left,” senior Nolan Young said. “If we want to accomplish the things we’ve talked about, our mentality is to win out. Simple as that.”

In theory, anyway.

The Bears had 10 games remaining at press time, five of which take place in the White Division.

The 6-1-0 record had them up three points on West Bloomfield High (5-2-0).

But, the Bears’ lone loss was a 3-2 setback to West Bloomfield — a team that’s gone 5-3 since starting the season 0-4 and shares the very same aspirations, when it comes to a White title.

“We’re going to need a little bit of help to get that,” Lakers coach Steve Kuza said last week. “But that’s at the top of our list right now.”

The teams are set to meet for the final time at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at Berkley — the game was originally scheduled for Jan. 27 outdoors at Clark Park — in a contest that could very well determine the White winner for 2013.

“You have to have that mentality that anybody can be beaten any night,” Leider said. “That includes us.”

“The kids understand where we are; they understand how close everything is,” Fleming said with a smile. “We have to keep doing what’s got us here, keep strong the focus that’s got us to this point.”

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