MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Macomb Dakota hockey coach Mike Jakubik said he tried to make this season’s slate as difficult as possible for a specific reason.
“I believe (playing a tough schedule) will prepare the team for the playoffs and other big games,” said Jakubik, whose squad so far has faced off against the likes of Wyandotte Roosevelt, Northville, Clarkston and Flint Powers Catholic before getting into Macomb Area Conference Red Division play.
“As the season goes along, a schedule like this will allow us as a team to see areas of weakness that we need to improve. It will also help us learn to battle adversity that comes with tough losses and being in a lot of tight games.”
Dakota at press time had a record of 8-4-1 overall, 4-0-0 MAC Red. The team is vying for its third straight league title. Though 13 games, the Cougars had outscored divisional opponents 21-6 in four MAC Red contests.
Jakubik, who has been named MAC Red Coach of the Year each of the last two seasons, said this year’s group is succeeding because it plays as a tight, cohesive unit.
“They’re buying into what’s being taught in practice,” said Jakubik, who has led the Cougars to the last two MAC Red titles. “When they’re playing as a team, they’re able to accomplish whatever they put their minds to. For us to three-peat, we need to play hard game in and game out, along with preparing strong for our league games and playing disciplined hockey.”
Forward Matt Riehl is one of the players helping to lead Dakota on the path to continued success, Jakubik said. Riehl is one of the Dakota captainsand one of the top forwards. The Cougars’ coach said Riehl is well-respected by his teammates and coaches because of his work ethic, leadership and ability to motivate others.
“For the team, (Riehl) helps to keep a positive atmosphere and motivates the players to work hard every shift.”
Jakubik said this year’s squad is led by a talented group of forwards — led by Riehl — who like to forecheck hard and move the puck up the ice quickly in transition.
Jakubik, who led Dakota to a Division 1 regional title in the 2008 Michigan High School Athletic Association state playoffs, said Dakota’s defense provides somewhat of an offensive approach, as it helps supplement the forwards on the forecheck. Goalkeeper Adam Bryant, Jakubik said, has played well and kept the Cougars in close games. The Cougars were 3-4 in contests decided by two goals or fewer.
Dakota could be in for more nailbiters, Jakubik said, but he thinks his team is up to the task.
“The schedule becomes even tougher the second half of the season,” Jakubik said, referencing matchups against Escanaba and Traverse City Central Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 in Traverse City. “It will test our team’s resolve battling against more good teams and should prepare us for the playoffs (which begin Feb. 24). The trip (to Traverse City) will be a great opportunity for the boys to bond in the dog days of the season.”
The Macomb Dakota hockey team next hits the ice for a matchup against Escanaba, set for 5:45 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Traverse City Centre Ice Arena.