Gielczyk: Bay Reps off to Quick Start in 2018

With several players returning from last year’s team that won the Northern Michigan Hockey League championship expectations are understandably high as the Bay Reps co-op hockey team open the 2018-19 season.

Despite making the transition to a new head coach, former assistant Michael Matteucci, the Bay Reps have gotten off to a 5-0 start after a 6-2 non-conference victory over Midland on Saturday, Dec. 1 at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.

Not only has their experience been behind the fast start, but Matteucci also attributes it to the players’ unfaltering dedication to working hard in practice to prepare for each game without looking ahead to the next.

Having been part of the team last year as an assistant coach has also made life easier for Matteucci, who already was familiar with the players and they with him so they knew what he expected of them.

“Obviously we’re doing some different things, but we’ve been working hard in practice (and) everyone’s been great,” Matteucci said. “That’s a big part of it, from the preparation part of it.”

Another big part of the Bay Reps’ success has been their efficiency on the power play, which has been a major factor in at least two of their wins this season. They successfully converted on four of seven power play opportunities in their season opening win, and then went three of four in the next game.

Matteucci attributes most of that to the work of assistant Kyle Jean, who comes from Sault Ste. Marie, played with the Traverse City North Stars when they were in the North American Hockey League, played hockey at Lake Superior State and some professionally. Jean is now a realtor in Traverse City.

Matteucci reached out to him for help.

“Being a forward, a guy who was a highly skilled player himself and was a power play type of player, he’s really helped quite bit with our power play,” Matteucci said. “Especially with the forwards, giving them some advice as to what they could do in certain situations to succeed. It’s helped quite a bit.

“Our second unit is coming along. Our top unit has done the majority of scoring on our power play, but our second unit has chipped in maybe two or three times.”

The Bay Reps top unit has Chris Denewith and Jonathan Adams on defense, with Jake Stevenson, Logan Kerry and Caleb Miller up front. They’ve clicked well despite it being early in the year.

Generally, the Bay Reps’ second power play unit is a mixture of the rest of the players who aren’t specifically on a line together. But, they’ve been able to put the puck in the back of the net when presented the opportunities.

What’s the key to being successful on the power play?

“You’ve got to be patient,” Matteucci said. “You’re up a player, right? So there’s going to be opportunities. You’ve got to move the puck around, and you can’t take the first opportunity that you have.

“When you move the puck, it opens up the ice and puts defensive players out of position. Often times you’re left with a guy wide open. It’s a matter of moving the puck around and finding that open guy, or getting shots with traffic in front of the goalie, out-numbering them in front of the net and banging home some of those rebounds.”

For Matteucci, it’s exercising patience and making the right decisions.

The Bay Reps are a fairly young group on defense, starting the season with only three experienced guys and then losing one, Gavin Duffing, who suffered a small fracture in his ankle which will keep him off the ice for four to six weeks.

Despite that setback, and their youth back on defense, the Bay Reps have managed to more than hold their own with Joseph Matteucci, who played forward last year, as well as a sophomore and freshman.

Kam Lannen didn’t see much action in his first two seasons on the team, but has been a revelation as a goalkeeper. First-year player sophomore Judd Lawson, who played travel hockey last year has been doing well. Matteucci has confidence in both.

Matteucci’s philosophy of getting all of his players’ ice time in each game has shown up in the Bay Reps’ ability to put pressure on the opponents’ goal in the third period with fresher legs, and the big numbers they’ve put up in the last period as a result.

It’s still early in the season, and plenty of big games remain. But Matteucci likes what he’s seen from his team so far.

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

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