ORCHARD LAKE — He said he wasn’t surprised, mainly because he understands the journey that brought his guys to this point.
Brian Klanow wasn’t going to call it a rebuild, but last winter’s hockey season was certainly one of reshuffling for the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s squad.
Youth and inexperience were mainstays on a roster that went through some serious turnover from the year before.
But now, a year later, Klanow is working with a team that was 6-0-0 at press time, and, as he pointed out, while far from perfect, it’s one seemingly hitting on all cylinders.
“This is a good, competitive group that plays well together,” Klanow said last week. “They are very skilled, and while there’s a lot we still need to work on, they’re getting better every time out.”
For a program that is considered a title contender nearly every March, a 6-0 start is nice, but no one is getting ahead of themselves.
“I think guys were looking for a fresh start when the season began,” senior forward Sammy Nardicchio said. “We weren’t exactly happy with last year, so this was our chance to prove we are a better team.”
The Eaglets were 13-12-1 a year ago, 5-7-1 in the Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League’s North Division and out of the state playoffs on the very first night.
But from that team, 15 players returned when camp opened this fall.
“I think we have the chance to be a very competitive team,” Klanow said before the season started. “With 15 guys back, they’re more experienced, stronger, bigger and a year smarter. That’s going to be key.”
His guys haven’t disappointed.
In the six games so far, the Eaglets have beaten division foes, other squads from Oakland County and, most recently, Upper Canada College.
The offense is finding the back of the net to the tune of 5.3 goals per game, while the defense and goaltending have allowed only 2.1 goals per contest.
“We’re finding ways to put the puck in the net,” Klanow said. “We’re responsible on defense, and we’ve gotten some good goaltending. Guys are playing for one another.”
Klanow also noted how many different players are contributing.
In the six wins, four different players have been credited with a game-winning goal.
Tenuta Damian leads the team in scoring with 10 points, but eight of those are by way of assists.
Eleven different players have at least one goal, so far.
“A lot of guys got their feet wet with the varsity last year, got that experience that we needed,” senior defenseman Anthony Scarsella said. “Last year put a little drive in us — gave us a reason to prove that we could come back and be better. It was motivational, in a way.”
“Last year, to be that young, they had to gain experience on the fly,” Klanow added. “They were guys that didn’t know how to win yet or how to handle different situations. Now, we’re a year older, stronger and smarter. And that all plays into what we’ve done so far.”
The Eaglets have proved their ability to win, but tougher tests remain on the horizon, especially for a team that believes it can win a state title.
“We’ve got some big games coming up, some emotional games against league rivals,” Klanow said. “Winning like we have can either be a positive or a negative, depending how we handle it.”
“It’s nice so far, but it has to be a game-by-game approach,” Nardicchio said. “This is a team with a lot of talent, a team that has the talent to win it all.”