For the second season in a row, hockey’s Macomb Area Conference Red Division could be decided in a head-to-head matchup between Macomb Dakota and Utica Eisenhower.
Last season, the Cougars beat Eisenhower in the last game of the regular season to capture the league championship. This year, the two teams will play a home-and-home series on consecutive days, with the potential of a MAC Red title at stake.
The matchups are scheduled for Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, with Dakota playing host the first game at Mount Clemens Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m., and Eisenhower hosting the following evening at Suburban Ice Macomb at 8:30 p.m.
At press time, Dakota has a 6-0 record in the MAC Red (19-1 overall); Eisenhower was 5-0 in Red play and 17-1-1 overall.
Both coaches are well aware that a division championship could be on the line when the two teams meet. In fact, according to Dakota coach Mike Jakubik that is why the back-to-back games were scheduled in the first place.
“Myself and (Eisenhower coach) Bob Hall kind of talked about it, and we expected it would be coming down to either one of us at the end of the year,” he said. “We figure, why not have it at the end, like a final weekend playoff, (and) see who wins.”
Hall has high expectations for the games.
“It’s pretty much a two-team race,” he said. “It’s us and Dakota for (the) MAC Red. It’s a big weekend of hockey. Should be two really good nights of hard-nosed, fast-paced hockey. A lot of guys on their team and our team know each other. It’s going to be, in my eyes, probably the best weekend of hockey this area’s seen in a long time.”
Aside from the potential significance of the games in the standings, the rivalry between the two schools can also add an extra level of intrigue. Both Jakubik and Hall have had an opportunity to experience the atmosphere of games involving Eisenhower and Dakota.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s football, hockey, baseball, basketball (or) soccer — the rivalry’s there,” Hall said. “Both teams want to beat the other team. Both schools want to beat the other school. The energy’s high.”
Jakubik has a similar sentiment.
“It’s great for the players,” he said. “It’s a lot of energy. You got that many fans rooting you on; you kind of feed off the energy. It’s a great rivalry. It’s nothing like I experienced when I was in high school.”
Adding yet another level of potential interest to the game is that, after the series, it may not be long before Dakota and Eisenhower see each other again in the playoffs. That possibility was not lost on either coach.
“(There’s) a possibility we might play again in (in the playoffs),” Hall said. “In the next two weeks, we could be playing each other three times.”
Dakota opens pre-regionals against Rochester Adams at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Mount Clemens Ice Arena. The winner faces Ike at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, also in Mount Clemens.
However the two regular-season games may play out, Jakubik thinks his team could use it to their advantage.
“The nice thing about it (two-game series) is if we do get that (MAC Red title), you can have that momentum transfer at the playoffs,” he said. “If we end up on the other side of the coin, you can kind of use that as motivation. You’ve just got to be ready for all three games we could possibly play.”