Oakland University D-III hockey club program ends season as national champs

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published April 7, 2016

Oakland University’s Division III hockey club team capped off its 2015-16 campaign with the first American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship in program history with a 5-3 win against Aquinas College March 12 at Southside Ice Arena in Byron Center, Michigan.

“This is my senior season, so not really a better way to go out than that,” said captain Robert Lauro, who acknowledged support from family and friends. “Most people don’t get the opportunity to finish their career winning their last game. So, in that regard, I’m very fortunate. There is not a better feeling. It’s been really cool in the hockey community — people I haven’t talked to since I was 10 years old reaching out to me. It’s cool seeing that all the work we’ve put in, it’s paid off, and we’re finally getting the recognition that everybody’s been dreaming about and working for.”

Oakland’s triumph came one season after a disappointing end to its 2014-15 season, when associate head coach Zack Warson said the Golden Grizzlies lost a semifinal game in which they had a 3-1 lead with about three minutes to play. Until this season, that was the furthest the program had ever advanced.
As tough as that overtime playoff loss was, from Warson’s perspective, it helped the team realize what needed to be done to close out a season on top.

Having already been playoff-tested may have helped Oakland get through this season’s postseason stretch, which took place over the course of five consecutive nights.

“It was great,” Warson said. “That was our third year being the No. 1 seed going into the tournament. We gained more experience every year from it. So hard to win five games in five nights, especially in that kind of environment, that kind of pressure. To see it come together and finish it out was great for the kids. The next day it still hadn’t sunk in, what we have done. I think even now, you see all the stuff on social media. I don’t think it really has sunk in yet.”

Aside from what he described as good leadership and great goaltending, Warson also thinks the team benefited from having players who chose to remain part of the squad, despite the opportunity to play for Oakland’s Division I program, which also has an ACHA national championship to its credit.

Warson thinks they elected to stay due to Oakland being such a close-knit group and because of how close they had already come to winning a national championship.

Aside from the immediate benefits that come with being a national champion, Oakland’s accomplishment could also help set the program up for future success.

“We’re graduating seven seniors, but we had, I think, three freshmen play in the national tournament,” Warson said. “So we have guys on our team that gained experience, and only to have to put in a few pieces to continue, it’s a good spot to be. The big thing that happened for us was we built a culture, and that culture has been winning. It wasn’t just to get to the national tournament or be ranked No. 1 — the goals have now moved into win a national championship.”

Local players on Oakland’s roster are Eric Woolf (West Bloomfield), Franklin Harlick (Royal Oak), Robert Easterbrook (Madison Heights), Cale Denison (Macomb Township), Michael Ryan (Beverly Hills), Robert Lauro (Rochester Hills), John Artemenko (Bloomfield Hills), Dylan Najjar (Royal Oak), Matthew Zuelch (Rochester), Brian Feldpausch (St. Clair Shores), Brandon Goodes (Troy), Jared Vanvalkenburg (Farmington Hills), Nicholas Manzo (Macomb Township), Maxwell Dubin (West Bloomfield), Steve Lauro (Rochester Hills), Austin McArdle (Macomb Township), Zac Massa (Farmington), Cortlin Marcinkowski (Macomb Township) and Nick Ebenhoeh (Sterling Heights).

Other players on Oakland’s squad are Chris Hellebuyck (Commerce Township), Kyle Gagnon (Goodrich), Dalton Genat (Coppell), Matt Stirling (Dexter), Joshua Gudobba (Washington Township), Jonathan Graham (Clarkston), AJ Rosales (Canton), Colin Johnson (Okemos) and Jeffrey Clemence (Waterford).