Last-to-first turnaround earns Troy Athens hockey team a division title

By: Mike Moore | Troy Times | Published February 26, 2014

 Goaltender Jeff Merola and Griffin Rocheleau (13) are pictured during a game earlier this winter. Athens finished 8-1-3 in the White.

Goaltender Jeff Merola and Griffin Rocheleau (13) are pictured during a game earlier this winter. Athens finished 8-1-3 in the White.

Photo by Donna Agusti

TROY — It had been three full seasons, many of them filled with frustration more than anything else.

But this was going to be a regular season.

This was a team that had spent enough time looking up at the rest of the standings and spent the winter making sure it wouldn’t happen again.

The hockey state playoffs officially began earlier this week, and just how long or how far the Troy Athens squad may go was unknown at press time.

But one thing clearly established during the 2013-14 regular season was the fact that Athens was the team to beat in the Oakland Activities Association White Division, but actually doing so was nearly impossible.

“It’s great,” coach Joe Barone said about his team’s White Division title. “There was so much good competition here this year. We have guys who’ve been with this program for years and have been through it all. Now, they can say they are league champs.”

Athens closed play in the White with an 8-1-3 final record.

The team’s 19 points was two better than rival Troy High, which placed second at 8-3-1 with 17 points.

The division crown was even more impressive considering the Red Hawks won just seven games all of last season, and in division play finished 2-7-3 and in last place.

“We gained some key guys that joined the team this year,” Barone explained. “But at the same time, we had a lot of returning guys that had matured and had been through so much. They were ready for that next step.”

Veterans like goaltender Jeff Merola were essential to the first league title since the 2009-10 season.

The only goalie on the team, Merola went 17-3-3 in the regular season with a 1.65 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and five shutouts.

Griffin Rocheleau led the team with 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists), while Brandon Goodes (23, 19), Jon Carandang (19, 14) and Brad Merola (15, 16) all had standout seasons on offense.

“Right after the holidays, when we had faced just about everyone once, I knew this team had a chance to do this,” Barone said. “The top of the standings were still very clustered, but based on what we had coming up, I felt this was a team that could make it happen.”

Now, the goal is to keep this type of success rolling.

“You can only hope this serves as its own recruiting total,” Barone added. “You have skilled players in the high school that could come out and play with us. You have eighth-graders who still haven’t decided where to play when they get to high school, and maybe this opens their eyes to what we have to offer.”