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Birmingham Unified hits high gear, equals win total from all of last season

By: Mike Moore | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 13, 2016

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BIRMINGHAM — After consecutive wins in consecutive days, Birmingham Unified hockey coach Steve Kruk scheduled an off day for his guys earlier this season.

And those same guys pushed back.

“Not in a bad way, but they wanted to be at the rink,” Kruk said. “They wanted to keep working at this.”

That mindset and approach has fueled a resurgence with the Unified squad this winter, and the results speak for themselves.

“There’s been kind of a culture change here,” Kruk said. “That requires a certain skill set, which these guys have. But at the same time, it also required the mindset, or mentality, of wanting to change, because they want to win.”

Following an 8-3 victory against Warren Mott on Dec. 9, Birmingham was a perfect 7-0-0 on the season.

The team went 7-18-1 all of last year.

“I was a first-year coach and we had a lot of first-year players,” Kruk said of the 2015-16 campaign. “We have more experience now, but there’s also that blue-collar mentality of wanting to come to work every day and prove ourselves.”

The Unified squad kicked off the year with an 8-3 shelling of Utica High.

But it was in the second game where Kruk said he noticed that something could be pretty special with this group.

Trailing Royal Oak Shrine 6-5 with just 3:58 remaining in regulation, Unified scored three goals in a span of 3:40 to secure an 8-6 win.

“We clawed out of a hole in a sloppy game,” Kruk said. “It would have been very easy to fold up and get over with the loss. But these guys found a way, and then we went out the next night and dominated.”

Birmingham rolled past Oxford-Avondale Unified 8-2 the next night.

“That’s kind of when I saw what we might have going here,” Kruk said.

The team hasn’t looked back since.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into what we’ve done so far,” Kruk added. “You have to have the players, and we have the personnel to be successful. Secondly, as a coaching staff, I think we’ve found ways to structure a game plan around the team we have. And really, this is a group of guys who’ve come to the rink with more of a purpose than we have in the past.”

Kruk went on to point out that, even undefeated, he doesn’t think his team has played its best hockey yet.

“Systematically, we have to be a little better, a little tighter and little sharper all over the ice,” he said. “We don’t need to be a fancy team. We don’t need to be overly creative. We want to be a hockey team putting shots on net and protecting our own zone.”

If all that happens, what has been a solid start could lead to a great winter.

So what’s the potential of this year’s group if the progression continues?

“I’d be lying if I said they didn’t want to contend this year for a state title. How realistic is that? I don’t know,” Kruk said. “Time will tell. I will say this: We go into every game thinking we can win. Are we going to go 25-0? Probably not. But we don’t take for granted the opportunity before us. How good can we be? Let’s put it this way: We want to turn some heads come late February and March. We want people wondering why we’re still hanging around and still playing.”

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