Berkley and Royal Oak hockey teams drop puck on long rivalry

By: Mike Moore | Royal Oak Review | Published December 12, 2012

Jeff Fleming and Craig Ward have been friends for as long as the two can remember.

They coach youth hockey together, have kids that play on the same Mini Mite team, and most of the time root for one another at the high school level.

Most of the time.

“We’re competitors, and this is one of those games you want to win,” Fleming said of a Dec. 14 game that pits his Berkley-Ferndale Unified squad against Ward’s Royal Oak High team. “This is that game you talk about, against your main rival, where you just want to get the best of the other guy.”

“It’s the game we put a star by on the calendar,” Ward said. “It’s huge, and our guys want it badly.”

Proximity fuels so many rivalries, and with Berkley High and Royal Oak High roughly three miles apart, it is the main ingredient in this one, as well.

“Plus, so many of these guys grew up playing together and against one another in the youth leagues,” Fleming added. “It just adds to it. It’s something pretty special.”

As the two lock in on the 7 p.m. game at the Berkley Ice Arena, neither can claim their playing their best hockey just yet.

At press time, Royal Oak was 1-3-1 overall, and 1-2-1 in the Oakland Activities Association White Division.

“We’re still figuring some things out,” said Ward, in his first year with the Ravens. “We’re still mixing lines. The guys are learning about me and vice versa. So we’ve had some bright spots and some bad spots, so far.”

Berkley, the defending White champ, was 3-2-0 overall and 1-1-0 in league play after a 3-2 loss to a previously winless West Bloomfield High team.

Records aside, both coaches quickly pointed to emotions being key for a win, more specifically, controlling them.

“You have to look forward to this game, but we also have to play within the game,” Fleming said. “You can’t get all wrapped up in the fans, the students or anything else. There’s going to be huge crowd, and if you start taking penalties or getting caught up in it, it can cost you.”

“You have to play hard, but you have to avoid those mistakes,” Ward said. “If we’re going to be successful, we’ll have to take advantage of any mistakes they make.”

Despite just one win in the first five games, Ward was adamant how big a victory against the defending league champ could be for his guys.

“That’s a good team, it always is,” Ward said. “Jeff does a lot of good things with them, and they’re going to be ready to go. But as far as our team goes and how far we’ve come since the start of the season, finding a way to beat them would do wonders for us moving forward.”

Fleming said he knows his guys are marked men, at least until someone takes the title from them.

“We have to do what we do well,” he said. “If we play our system and run it efficiently, we’re a tough team to beat.”