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West Bloomfield

March 12, 2013

Lakers turn dismal start into memorable season, including regional title

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
West Bloomfield’s Ellis Fried (6) and Ryan Houle (11) move the puck during the regional round of the playoffs. The Lakers won their first regional title since 2003.

Eight games had been played, and just one resulted in a win.

Exactly one-third of the way into the season, the West Bloomfield High hockey team was spiraling out of control, had changed coaches and was left with more questions than answers as to where the winter was heading.

Some three months later, there's an abundance of pride surrounding the program that hasn't been visible in the standings in nearly a decade.

“It was pretty special,” coach Steve Kuza said of the season, more specifically, the final couple of months. “We had to change some things, get the seniors to buy in and lead the way. That all happened, and things turned around.”

Kuza spoke moments after a Division 2 quarterfinal loss to Hartland High.

His team, seemingly without a prayer early on, had transformed into one that forgot how to lose.

The Lakers reeled off 11 consecutive wins entering the March 5 game at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor and had as good a reason as anyone to pencil in a trip to Compuware for the state semifinals.

“They came out a little more prepared than us and got the early lead,” Kuza said of what turned into a 7-1 defeat. “When they got the lead, it made a huge difference. We finished the game strong, which I am very proud of, but that was a tough team to play against.”

The Lakers' 1-7-0 start to the season gave way to a 17-12-0 final record.

The 11-game winning streak included the program's first regional title since the 2003 season.

“When we were 1-7, I don't think there were too many people that expected us to win a regional title,” Kuza said with a laugh. “Being part of this was pretty cool for all of us. It brought back some of the nerves I had as a player (for West Bloomfield in 2003). It's like, we're finally back as a program.”

Now the challenge is maintaining it.

But Kuza, who said coaching consistency is a huge factor in the growth of any program - and said he plans on being with the team for a while - welcomes the task of duplicating or even exceeding what was done in 2013.

“We feel like this is a program that can maintain this level of success,” he said. “Whether that's consistently being in a quarterfinals or moving on to the semis, or beyond, that's the goal moving forward.”

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