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March 13, 2013

Cranbrook boys hockey team completes season the only way it knows how

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Cranbrook boys hockey team completes season the only way it knows how
Cranbrook captains, from left, Jeff Martin, Alex Alger and Jeremy Loewenstein, are pictured with the D-3 championship trophy following a 4-2 victory against Sault Ste. Marie.

PLYMOUTH — Greatness with this program is nothing new.

From one winter to the next, expectations for the Cranbrook hockey team begin and end with a state championship.

And more often than not, expectations are realized.

There’s a legacy with the Cranes few can relate to.

Teams and players come and go, their lasting impact etched into banners above the ice at Wallace Arena.

So the story went in 2013, and before long, the rafters will have a little less vacancy to work with.

Yet, as routine as the winter may have been, this season was something different.

One of the best
“In the 20 years I’ve been coaching, this is definitely one of the most skilled teams I’ve ever had,” coach Andy Weidenbach said after the Cranes won the 2013 Division 3 state title with a 4-2 victory against Sault Ste. Marie March 9 at Compuware Sports Arena. “We had three-and-a-half lines that could really play. Most teams have one or two, at most. … Teams like this don’t come around that often.”

The Cranes didn’t just win, they dominated — everyone.

The final game was the closest of the playoffs.

They attacked in waves, one line, one shift after another.

Trailing 2-0, Sault Ste. Marie, finally generated a decent scoring chance, and in what turned into one of the few mistakes CK has made in the past month, the game was suddenly 2-1.

Momentum had temporarily shifted in the Blue Devils’ favor.

And then it was gone.

Less than 80 seconds after the deficit was cut in half, Alex Alger put the Cranes up 3-1.

Exactly 1:16 later, he slammed home a perfect pass from Michael Romund for a power-play tally.

Up 4-1, the game was over, even if some 23 minutes still had to be played.

Asked if this was his best team ever, Weidenbach just smiled, saying, “I’ll let you guys decide that.”

Proof in the numbers
The Cranes finished the season 28-2-1. They ended on an 11-game winning streak, outscoring their six playoffs opponents 47-4.

But Cranbrook’s dominance wasn’t limited to Division 3.

The 28 wins included a Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North Division title, thanks to a 12-1 finish.

The Cranes’ only league loss was a 4-2 decision to Novi Detroit Catholic Central, the eventual D-1 runner up that Cranbrook also beat 5-1 later in the season.

Other wins this year came at the expense of a Birmingham Brother Rice team that spent time ranked No. 1 in D-1, a University of Detroit Jesuit team that reached the D-1 semifinals, and a Port Huron Northern squad that did the same in D-2.

In fact, the D-2 state champ this year is a Livonia Stevenson team that Cranbrook beat 7-0.

“These guys were pretty special,” assistant coach Pat Ronayne said. “We’ve had some great teams here before. I don’t know if this was the best one ever, but they were right there.”

End of the drought
Ronayne was quick to compare the current team with the 2005 squad.

Both were loaded with talent up and down the roster, but that year’s team got nipped in the regional round 4-3 by an Orchard Lake St. Mary’s group that went on to claim the D-3 title.

This team didn’t share the same fate — not with nine seniors on the roster who had never won a title. Not a year after being upset by Marysville High in the regional final, and certainly not after going two full winters without a celebration at Compuware.

“You couldn’t ask for a better way to go out,” Alger, one of the nine seniors, said with a smile. “This team achieved so much.”

Namely, the eighth state championship since 2000.

Given their schedule, Weidenbach said he saw his guys winning anywhere from 15 to 18 games this year.

“I would have been tickled pink to do that, knowing the teams we had to face,” he explained. “I didn’t really think we could be this good until the second half of the season. Early on, we were winning, but a lot of them were close games that could have gone either way. As the season went on, we got healthy. We got contributions from everyone, and we built up some momentum.”

The exclamation point came on a warm afternoon in Plymouth on the season’s final day.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.