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Utica hockey bounces back with impressive wins early

November 28, 2012

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Utica High’s Harrison Flores handles the puck during a game earlier this season. The Chieftains are off to a solid 2-1 start this year.

In hockey, like in other sports, reactions and adjustments play a major role, as far as long-term success.

And if the early returns are any indication, Utica High’s hockey team is in for a strong season.

The Chieftains dropped their season opener 2-1 against Auburn Hills Avondale Nov. 14 in a non-league game, leading coach Matt Burke to rearrange a few things, like the team’s lines, heading into their next game.

The changes paid off immediately.

Utica beat Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 8-1 in its Nov. 17 Macomb Area Conference White Division opener. The Chieftains followed that up with a 3-2 Nov. 21 MAC crossover win against St. Clair Shores Unified — a consistently solid MAC Red squad.

“A lot has to do with team chemistry, finding the right lines,” Burke said between the wins. “If we take care of things, there’s a good chance we’re going to win some games.

“Against Avondale, I thought we underachieved a little bit,” the coach continued. “I thought we could have played better. It’s still early in the year; we’re getting used to each other. We came together well against L’Anse Creuse North, put the game together well. So far, so good.”

When talking about the team, Burke noted the play of returning starting goalie Ethan Smith, a senior.

“He’s a rock,” Burke said. “He’s going to steal games for us, keep us in games.”

While Smith works to stop goals for the Chieftains, Burke will look to a group of offensive players to create them — seniors Harrison Flores and Kurtis Van Drunen, and juniors Alec George, D.J. LaBash and Kyle Allard.

“Offensively, we’re a little deeper than last year,” the coach said. “We can definitely score.”

Defensively, Burke said the squad is a “little young but pretty mature.”

That group’s development is likely key between the team having a good season or a great one.

“I’d like to win the division. Don’t know the last time Utica did,” Burke said. “If we play good, hard, disciplined … and can get into the playoffs, I think we have the talent to sneak up on teams.”

Utica’s next game is at 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at Suburban Macomb against Fraser High.

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