Confidence soaring as Rochester United takes aim at Red crown and playoff push
Published February 12, 2014
TRENTON — Another great test, another solid victory.
That’s been the predictable pattern the season has taken for the Rochester United hockey team.
On the first night of the MIHL Prep Showcase last weekend, United found itself in a grudge match with a Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett team that came in with speed and skill to burn, not to mention a 15-2-1 record.
Yet here was Rochester, getting three unanswered goals from Marshall Bowery to take a 3-0 lead late in the second period.
In the end, United would need an empty net goal to grab a 4-2 victory, but as the team has all year, this served as another statement that this year could be something special.
“We’ve gotten very good goaltending; our best players have played like our best players,” coach Craig Staskowski said. “We have a group of guys playing for something bigger than themselves.”
And the results are hard to argue.
A day after beating Liggett, United returned to the Showcase and lost 3-2 in overtime against the University of Detroit Jesuit.
The setback put the team’s record at 15-3-3 with four regular-season games to go.
The 3-0-2 mark and eight points in Oakland Activities Association Red Division play also has United in the driver’s seat to take home a league title, and they will need wins against Lake Orion High (Feb. 15) and Farmington Hills Unified (Feb. 19) to stay on top.
“The league is our first goal,” Staskowski said. “We’re right there.”
But the bigger goal begins Feb. 25, when United will officially drop the puck on the 2014 Division 1 postseason in a game against Utica Eisenhower.
It was one year ago that Macomb Dakota ousted United on the first night in a 4-3 overtime loss.
Ike beat Dakota two days later and went on to win the regional title.
“That’s a loss that still stings us,” Drew Harm said after the Liggett game. “To end the season like that was horrible. It’s something we felt all summer.”
But, according to Staskowski, it also served as a driving force to improve.
“We had 11 guys come back to the team this year, and we talked all summer about putting in the work we needed to,” he explained. “They’ve done that.”
They put in the work not just to avenge a heartbreaking defeat, but to go all the way to Compuware Arena.
“You’ve seen public school teams like Brighton (High) and (Livonia) Stevenson and Hartland (High) do it last year. Why not us?” Staskowski said. “We have the players. We have the goaltending and the depth. But we know it’s going to be very difficult. The winner of the first game gets Dakota. After that, you’re likely going to face Lake Orion. And after that, it’s only going to be tougher.”
Which is why Staskowski was so adamant about scheduling teams like Liggett, one of the best in Division 3.
The U of D squad United lost to last weekend was one of the top-ranked teams in D-1.
“The schedule we’ve played is big,” said forward Max Harper. “It gets you ready for anything. It sets you up for the types of games you’re going to see in the playoffs.”
Dipping into all three divisions, United has held it’s own with some of the best teams out there. They have beaten Novi High, Calumet High, Ike, Stoney Creek and Farmington High, to name a few.
The other losses included a 4-3 setback to a 16-win Stevenson team and a 5-0 loss at Houghton High (16-2) on Dec. 14.
Since that loss in December, United has rolled to a (10-1-3) mark all the while climbing in the D-1 rankings.
“With how difficult the Red is and with the nonconference schedule we’ve put together, it’s forced these guys to take every game one at a time,” Staskowski said. “That’s why I feel we’re ready for the playoffs. They’ve been tested. They have that mentality. Not much has to change.”
“Truthfully, I think last year was a little too easy at times,” Harm said of a 16-7-2 finish in 2013. “What we’ve done this year has put us against some of the best teams out there. It’s taught us not to take anything for granted.”
Where it leads, only time will tell.
This is a United program with just one regional title to its name, and in playoff hockey anything can, and usually does happen.
“But the things we can control, we feel like we’re prepared for,” Staskowski said. “We’ve done the things we’ve needed to so we can be as ready as possible.”