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After record year, Ravens hockey focuses on duplicating success

By: Mike Moore | Royal Oak Review | Published December 13, 2016

 Max Knoerl plays the puck in a victory against Utica High last week. The Ravens begin play in the Oakland Activities Association White Dec. 14 against Bloomfield Hills High at home.

Max Knoerl plays the puck in a victory against Utica High last week. The Ravens begin play in the Oakland Activities Association White Dec. 14 against Bloomfield Hills High at home.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ROYAL OAK — The record books were shattered last winter.

Now the challenge, or mission, is duplicating that success — and then some.

“With the parity of high school hockey, I don’t think there’s fluke seasons or anything like that,” said Royal Oak High hockey coach Craig Ward, who’s in his fifth season of his second stint with the Ravens. He also coached the program for three years in the early 2000s. “We’ve been pretty balanced from year to year. We don’t lose a ton of seniors in any one year. We have an ability to build this from one year to the next. Now we’re at a point where we want to be, where we are disciplined and dedicated. Most importantly, we’re focused on the academics with this team.”

And the team is winning plenty.

Following an 8-0 victory against Utica High on Dec. 7, the Ravens were 4-1-0 at press time.

“We’ve played well so far,” Ward said. “The key for us is taking it one game at a time.”

“A lot of depth on this team,” senior forward Henry Gabriel said a day after the Utica win. He had three goals and two assists in the game. “We have young guys stepping up. We have veterans contributing. We have the depth, and we’re approaching things one game at a time.”

Those were two ingredients in last year’s record-setting finish.

The Ravens went 18-7-1, setting a program record for wins in a season.

They also captured the Oakland Activities Association White Division for the first time ever — sharing the title with Troy Unified with a 9-1-0 mark — and finished with a team grade-point average of 3.01.

“Last year was unbelievable,” Gabriel said. “To win the way we did and get that first championship was pretty special.”

Gabriel, a junior captain on that team and again this season, led the way offensively with 46 goals, 39 assists for 85 total points.

He’s one of a handful of veterans back in the mix this winter, and he, much like the team, picked up where last year left off.

Through five games, Gabriel had 11 goals and 10 assists.

On the other end of the ice, the defense and goaltending has allowed just seven goals against.

Palmer Kobkesh was 4-0-0 in four games played with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

In secondary relief, Luokkala Julian had allowed just one goal on 24 shots faced.

“The offense is good, and the defense has been right on par with where we want it to be,” Ward said. “We focused a lot over the summer on protecting our zone. The guys have lived up to that. They are making good decisions in the right spots.”

Ward said the first goal of this season is defending the OAA White crown, “and not having to share it.”

“Executing,” he said was the fundamental approach for league play. “We know these teams. We know how they run things. It comes down to us taking it from the drawing board to practice to games. If we do that, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

“Defending the league title is so key,” Gabriel said. “We feel we have the team capable of doing that.”

The Ravens are the only team in the White that’s yet to play a divisional game, but that all changes at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 when the team welcomes Bloomfield Hills High (4-1-0) into the Lindell Ice Arena.

And there begins a chance at duplicating history and further establishing the progress of the Royal Oak program.

“We have a chance to put our name out there even more with another strong season,” Gabriel said. “I think people are starting to see who we are, but if we can go back to back, we’ll really get that attention.”