Berkley’s move to the Red brings high risk, and possible high reward

By: Mike Moore | Woodward Talk | Published November 20, 2013

 Ranen Fisk makes a play on the puck during a scrimmage against Bloomfield Hills. After consecutive White Division titles, the Bears moved to the Red.

Ranen Fisk makes a play on the puck during a scrimmage against Bloomfield Hills. After consecutive White Division titles, the Bears moved to the Red.

Photo by Donna Agusti

BERKLEY — Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said winning was “the only thing.”

Jeff Fleming agrees, but, as of this year, he’s more focused on the timing of said success.

That sums up the Berkley-Ferndale Unified hockey coach’s decision this offseason to accept a move to the Oakland Activities Association Red Division.

“We felt it was time we took that step,” Fleming said last week before a practice. “It’s the right time for our program to do this. We had the option, and we felt this was the best way to go.”

For years, the Bears have won plenty.

Two seasons ago, they set a program record with 22 victories and an OAA White Division crown.

Last winter, the guys rolled to 19 more wins and another White Division title.

But when the postseason arrived, “the speed and tempo of the play was unlike anything we were used to,” senior Shane Goldberg said.

“We won 41 games the past two years, maybe without seeing very much adversity, though,” Fleming said. “I think that kind of showed, come playoff time.”

In 2012, the Bears were ousted by Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 8-0 in a Division 1 regional final.

In 2013, Grosse Pointe North ended the Bears’ season in the opening round by a 9-1 score.

“We didn’t know that level of intensity,” senior Zack Segall said. “We just weren’t ready.”

By switching to the Red, that will all change.

“That’s the hope, anyway,” Fleming said. “I don’t want to say playing in the White was easy, because it wasn’t. We had to battle to win the games we did. But when you move to the Red, you’re in the top division of this conference, and it creates some new challenges.”

And opportunities.

Unlike the White, where teams play each other twice, Red Division foes face each other just once, giving Berkley the flexibility Fleming desired to beef up the schedule in other areas, as well.

“We’re going to the East Kentwood tournament,” Fleming said. “We’re going to face teams like Novi High, Dexter, Canton and Pinckney, for example. And when you play in the Red Division, there aren’t any nights off at all.”

Is there another 20-win team on hand?

“No, but we may be better,” Fleming explained.

All but three players are back from the 2012-13 team, namely starting goaltender Stephen Wroe, a four-year varsity player considered one of the top goalies in the area.

“This is a team that wants more respect and more recognition,” Goldberg said. “Playing in the Red can do that for us.”

The Bears’ chance to make a run come playoff time was also heightened by the fact they were dropped from Division 1 to Division 2.

There won’t be any pushovers, but the likes of St. Mary’s and Grosse Pointe North won’t be waiting, either.

“The thought process is to have this team at its best by the time the postseason starts,” Fleming said. “The Red is tough, and who knows if we can win it or not. We want to go out and battle, and find ways to be competitive. But the main thing we’re looking forward to is having 25 games, 25 chances to go out and better ourselves and be as prepared as possible for the end of February.”