TROY — For two years, he was the main option in net for the Troy Athens hockey team.
In fact, for two years, Jeff Merola was the only option in net for the Red Hawks.
So the senior keeper made the most of his time, shouldering the load for Athens between the pipes. Now, he is reaping some of the benefits.
Following the conclusion of the 2014 playoffs and the release of the Oakland Activities Association’s All-Conference team, Merola was chosen as the White Division’s Goaltender of the Year.
“It means a lot,” Merola said last week. “For the other coaches to see me that way was pretty special.”
“He was very deserving after the season he had,” Athens coach Joe Barone said. “When you look at his numbers, it’s kind of hard to argue.”
In OAA White play, Merola helped lead the team to a division title, finishing with an 8-1-3 record, a 1.83 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and two shutouts.
“And I don’t even think his stats were the main reason he got this,” Barone said. “His game play was the biggest reason, I think, the coaches voted this way. They knew who Jeff was by the end of the season and why he was so essential for us.”
Merola essentially backstopped the team for the past three years.
As a sophomore, he played nearly every game.
As a junior and senior, he was the only goalie on the Red Hawks’ roster.
“We rested everything on his shoulders,” Barone said. “And he excelled with the pressure.”
Merola said being the lone goalie never really fazed him.
“I kind of grew up that way on the teams I played for,” he said. “I think the only problem was in practice when we needed two goals for a drill or something, and instead, I would do everything. … I probably got more tired in practice than I did games.”
Playing every minute of the season, Merola finished with a 17-6-3 final record, 1.80 goals against, a .930 save percentage and five shutouts.
Merola said he’s still debating his hockey future, which may include playing on the Oakland University club team or playing at the junior level.
“I thought this was a solid team that really came together and really played well together. I was just part of that,” he said.