Gielczyk: Manistee Growing in Foley’s First Season
After rallying for a 4-3 season opening victory over Hudsonville, the Manistee co-op ice hockey team has lost three consecutive games to fall to 1-3.
It’s not the start first-year coach Jim Foley envisioned with the talent he has on the roster. But circumstances have conspired against the Chippewas, especially in terms of the penalties minutes they have accrued.
Manistee has also been shorthanded in their last two games, both of which were on the road. The Chippewas have only 14 skaters, and Foley was only able to take nine for games at Grand Rapids Northview, a 6-4 loss, and Lowell where they dropped a 6-3 decision.
Foreign exchange student Mathias Eriksson, who skates on the first line, has scored a goal in each of the last three. He also contributed single assists against Cadillac and Northview, and leads the team with nine points.
Oscar Saarinen, another foreign exchange student, is next with seven points with two goals and five assists, while the third foreign exchange student on the roster, Oscar Hammarstrom has one goal and two assists for three points.
Addressing the numbers issue head on, Foley has taken to devoting the early part of every week to working on conditioning, when most every other team is done with that aspect of the season.
“What we’re hoping for is that at the end of the season, when it really matters and we’re playing our league games, we’re going to be ready to go,” Foley said. “When it comes to playoffs, we’ll be in better physical condition.
“It’s a work in progress. We hope to pick up wins along the way, but if we don’t the kids understand that it’s a process. The positive we can take from (the season) so far is we have not been blown off the ice. We’ve been in every game.”
Foley isn’t dismissing the non-conference games as merely preparation for the Northern Michigan Hockey League, but the Chippewas are hoping to earn their first league title since 2015.
The Chippewas have not won a playoff game in their history, and they’d like to end that drought this year.
Except for the Grand Rapids Northview game, when the Chippewas took a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period, Manistee has had to battle from behind.
It’s something Foley is getting used to, and accepted as just a fact with this team.
“We come out slow and then get going,” the coached said. “It’s just the way this team seems to operate.”
Manistee finally got more than one skater, namely Eriksson, involved in the scoring in their last game. Foley is hoping to see that continue as the Chippewas move forward in the schedule.
After trailing, 2-0 at the first intermission, the Chippewas outscored Lowell/Caldeonia, 2-1 in the second to make it a 3-2 game.
But, the Chippewas were outscored, 3-1 in the third for the 6-3 loss. Manistee saw Jacob Gustafson, Josh Fitzgerald and Trevor Persoon light the lamp. None of them skate on the Blue line.
Foley has alternated Gustafson, Fitzgerald, Persoon, Mason Calleson and Barry Seymour on the White line.
“Unfortunately, that line leads in penalties,” added Foley. “They’re kind of the physical line out there. This past Saturday we were missing Barry Seymour, one of our defensemen.”
The Chippewas also cut down their time in the penalty box, with 12 minutes on six infractions compared to Lowell/Caldeonia’s 33 minutes on 12 infractions. Manistee was 0-for-9 on the power play, though.
Manistee’s penalty kill unit continued to perform well, killing off all five Lowell/Caldeonia power play opportunities.
Junior goalie Rocco Staszczak currently leads the Chippewas with a .882 save percentage, with 30 saves in the first four games on 34 shots on goal. He alternates starting with senior netminder Raymond Schwass.
“Our goalie play has been pretty solid,” Foley said. “I’m happy at what I’m seeing out of both goalies. If they can shut down at least 90 percent of the shots, we should be alright. We need to limit the number of shots.
“Unfortunately, that (goalie play) is not where the problem is. It’s been more in the defensive play. That’s another aspect that we’re working on.”
Manistee returns to the ice this Saturday for a non-conference game against Bryon Center at the West Shore Community Ice Arena in Victory Township. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.
Foley expects to see the Chippewas execute the game plan, and get back on the winning track.
No one is pressing any panic button, that’s for sure. It’s still early in the season, and there’s time to fix the Chippewas’ problems.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.