Gielczyk: Manistee Still Finding its Way

Playing from behind has become common place for the Manistee co-op ice hockey team. So has coming out slow, trailing early and making a mad dash to get back in the game, only to fall short of overcoming the deficit.

The Chippewas followed that same scenario this past weekend, spotting visiting Grand Rapids West Catholic a 1-0 first period lead that the Falcons extended to 3-1 after two periods before rallying for two goals in the third to tie the game, 3-3 and force overtime.

But, the Chippewas surrendered the deciding goal in the extra session for their sixth straight loss and faced a bus ride to Walker for a matchup with Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills the next day.

A slow start wasn’t entirely unexpected after the Chippewas, who carry only 14 skaters overall and were playing shorthanded for the second straight night without Manistee junior Josh Fitzgerald, serving the second game of a two-game disqualification, as well as Manistee Catholic senior Barry Seymour III.

With only eight skaters available for Saturday’s game, the Chippewas realized the challenge ahead of them was daunting to say the least, and coach Jim Foley was rightfully concerned about how the team would handle the short turnaround.

Manistee was typically sluggish to start the game, perhaps more pronounced after Friday’s overtime game, and the Knights wasted no time taking advantage of the situation, opening up a 3-0 lead in the first 17 minutes.

“I think the kids were wore out from playing an extended game the night before,” Manistee coach Jim Foley said. “On top of that, we were really shorthanded. The second period, the kids came to life.

“We only had a couple (four, actually) penalties the first two periods. But, then the fatigue set in and we took those fatigue penalties. That killed us.”

As usual, falling into a 3-0 hole early served as a wake-up call for the Chippewas and they rallied to outscore the Knights, 4-2 in the second 17 minutes to climb back into the game, trailing the Knights, 5-4 entering the third period.

But, then as Foley said, the Chippewas lost their legs in the third period, and took six costly penalties. One of those was questionable, though, when Ludington freshman Jake Lamm was called for hooking in the third period.

Foley said Lamm was skating alongside one of the Knights, when Lamm lifted his stick. It didn’t appear to be an infraction to Foley. But, it was another example of how the breaks haven’t gone Manistee’s way this season.

The Chippewas had pulled their goalie to put an extra attacker on the ice, but Lamm’s penalty forced Foley to send the keeper back out between the pipes.

Kenowa Hills put in an insurance goal in the third period to hand the Chippewas their seventh straight loss, dropping their record to 1-7.

A seven-game losing streak certainly isn’t what Foley envisioned for the Chippewas at this point in the season, but he has said more than once that these non-conference games are only preamble to the team’s Northern Michigan Hockey League contests.

Foley has seen the Chippewas make some positive strides despite the losing streak, including cutting down on their penalties minutes which had been a disturbingly pesky problem through the team’s first four games.

The Chippewas have also displayed an impressive resiliency in being able to rally from early deficits, even if they have not been on the right side of the scoreboard at the end. They also had a couple power play goals, which is definitely a positive sign. Scoring on the power play has been a problem for Manistee this season.

For once the Chippewas were on the right side of shots on goal as well, outshooting the Knights by an impresive 12-shot margin, 32-20.

But, too many of those shots were right at the Knights goalie.

“We made their goalie look good,” said Foley. “We’ve been working on our power play a lot the last couple of weeks, and I think we’ve found what the key is there. We’re going to cut out those cross side passes, and try to get more shots.

“There are a certain number of passes we’re allowed to make if we want to get a shot. The kids are doing that. So, that’s a positive.”

Manistee has some time off now to prepare for its conference opener on Friday, Jan. 5 against the Traverse Bay Reps at the West Shore Community Ice Arena in Scottville. The Bay Reps took the measure of Grand Haven, 3-2 on Saturday to improve its record to 4-3-1 on the season.

Foley hopes to have his full roster for that one, because the Bay Reps present an imposing challenge, and a hurdle to Manistee’s chances of winning the first league title since the 2015 season.

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 ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Hockey