ROYAL OAK — This may just be the best team you haven’t heard of.
Or maybe, it’s a team you’ve heard of, but failed to take notice of.
Or, as Royal Oak Shrine hockey coach A.J. Plaskey predicts, it’s a team with a flashy record and some standout players that still needs to prove something.
Or, all of the above.
“Trust me, I understand the naysayers, or the people that just aren’t sure about us yet,” Plaskey said. “We haven’t played the toughest schedule in the state, but to do what we’ve done and be where we are is pretty special.”
When last season ended, Plaskey and his team was 10-14-0, but more importantly, had just a dozen players on the active roster.
His fear, if the numbers didn’t increase, was the program would cease to exist.
So, Shrine teamed up with Clarkston Everest Collegiate and Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes prior to the 2012-13 season, and the roster suddenly had 22 guys.
The results speak for themselves.
At press time, Shrine was 18-1-0, with the lone setback coming in a 4-3 loss to Berkley-Ferndale Unified Jan. 5.
“I think having the new guys we’ve added really helped,” senior forward Joe Nagle said. “At the same time, we all came together as a team. We decided to make this a special season. … I guess I’m a little surprised to have the record we do, only because we don’t have that superstar. It’s just a bunch of good players who’ve worked well together.”
As Plaskey alluded to, the schedule his team plays isn’t the most deadly — likely the main reason Shrine isn’t ranked in the top 10 of the coaches association poll — but the Knights have beaten teams from the Macomb Area Conference, the Oakland Activities Association, the Michigan Metro League and the Catholic League.
“It’s not the toughest in the world, but there are some teams out there, like the Royal Oak High rivalry win, the Riverview team that we beat, and even losing to Berkley was a great game,” Nagle said.
“To win 18 out of 19 is still pretty good,” Plaskey added with a laugh. “I wasn’t sure what we’d have when things started, but I knew we’d be pretty good. Then we got some real good players from the school that decided to join us. And, very quickly, we had three good lines, five solid defensemen and very good goaltending.”
Nagle leads the team with 28 goals and 13 assists, while Ryan Bradley has 22 goals and 11 assists. Chris Bradley has tallied 19 goals and 15 assists.
In net, Steve Erwin has posted a 15-1 record with a 1.72 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and four shutouts.
Still, as the Knights know, validation isn’t based on regular-season success.
“It comes at the end of the year, with a couple playoff wins or a great game against a good team,” Plaskey said. “That’s what we want to do to end this season. That’s what we’re excited about, to have that opportunity to prove ourselves to people who may look past us.”
Playoff draws are not complete, but Shrine will open the Division 3 tournament against Farmington High or Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day.
“The goal is to make a run,” Nagle said simply. “It takes time to establish yourself as a program, and this will be the first year we go in with a little more hope than usual, but we’re looking forward to it. It’s playoff time, a lot of us are seniors, and we have the chance to really prove something.”