Utica-Ford Unified continuing to build young program

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 25, 2019

 Utica-Ford Unified’s Turner Tomatti skates with  the puck in a game earlier this season.  At press time, the squad was 6-16 overall.

Utica-Ford Unified’s Turner Tomatti skates with the puck in a game earlier this season. At press time, the squad was 6-16 overall.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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UTICA — For Utica-Ford Unified hockey coach Bob Clouston, wins and losses don’t predicate success for his team this season. At press time, Unified was 6-16 overall and 3-2 in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division.

Success this season has been judged based on the growth of the players, and Clouston has seen that from his team.

“A lot of teams we play twice,” he said. “The majority of the time, the second time we’ve played them our results were better. It’s a great indication of how we’re doing. You can see it with us more so as coaches in practice; the players are picking up what we’re giving them and overall they’re getting stronger.”

Clouston said that both he and the team would like to see more wins on the season. But regardless of that, not one player has quit on the team or been discouraged because of the tough results.

“They’ve worked hard every day, and that’s the sign of a team that believes in themselves, and they’re continuing to want to get better,” the coach said. “If their wins and losses are a little lopsided sometimes, they’ll quit on you at the end of the year. Our team couldn’t be farther from that.”

The Unified captains and upperclassmen have played major roles in establishing and maintaining a high morale in the locker room. Kyle Manzella, Turner Tomatti and Brendan Kaczmarek were all described as workhorses by their coach.

Clouston said Tomatti and Manzella up front have been hard-working players who have shown great leadership. Kaczmarek was described as a quiet player who always shows up whether it’s a practice or a game.

“When your captains are your hardest workers, when your captains don’t take penalties and when your captains show up on time, it makes it really hard for other players not to work hard,” Clouston said. “We’re very blessed to have great leadership with those three.”

With the postseason right around the corner, Clouston is well-aware that anything can happen if the team shows up and gives maximum effort.

But the fact of the matter is Unified will either get Macomb Dakota (16-8 overall) or L’Anse Creuse Unified (16-8) in a Division 1 regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Suburban Ice Arena Macomb. Getting wins against either team will be a tough task, and Utica-Ford Unified isn’t putting all its chips on that table.

Instead, the team has turned its attention to the future. Clouston estimates that 15 kids minimum from outside the program have expressed interest in playing for him next season. The team has been and is continuing to gain interest.

As for the current players on the team, Clouston said the next building block for the program is overall strength.

“We’re young, and when a young man is 14 or 15 playing against 18-year-olds, there’s a huge difference in size, strength and maturity,” he said. “A lot of our players have grown leaps and bounds on the ice, but they now have six months to hit the weight room and to get stronger.”

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