Pete Barrows

March 20 marked the first official day of spring, but trekking home up through Indiana on a chilled Wednesday afternoon, Grand Valley State University men’s head hockey coach Mike Forbes was noticeably let down by the shift in season that hadn’t come.

“It was cold – disappointingly so,” Forbes said. “Typically we come back from the national tournament and it’s spring – I was looking forward to that.”

For the fourth year in a row, GVSU’s club hockey program made the trip to the Division II American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament, held this year in the Hardee’s IcePlex in Chesterfield, MO. and for the third year in row, they played in the tournament’s final game. Coming up a game short once again, fulfilled championship aspirations, like the spring, didn’t arrive in time for the Lakers in 2013.

Playing some of their best hockey of the season, GVSU scored 13 goals in five tournament games held between Mar. 15 and 19 and seemed to play best when they needed it most. After a heavy-handed 6-0 brutalizing of Arizona State University in what was perhaps GVSU’s second best game all year, a stingy 1-0 victory over the University of Illinois in the semifinals Monday propelled the Lakers to another championship berth, this time against in state foe Michigan State. Playing on an unusually spacious Olympic ice sheet and without the services of senior starting center Jeremy Christopher who had separated his shoulder Saturday against Northeastern University, the puck didn’t bounce the Lakers way and a prominent and desperate third period finish that narrowed the gap wasn’t enough to help GVSU overcome a six goal deficit, five of which had been scored by the Spartans during power play opportunities. The game, and GVSU’s season, concluded in a 6-3 defeat.

“When our team plays up to their potential, they can play with anybody in the country and when we don’t, we can play down to anybody’s level,” Forbes said. “When we have a sense of urgency and compete at the highest level and test the levels of our potential, we’re a very good hockey team. When we don’t, we compete very average. I think we saw both of those in the tournament this week.”

The trip began inauspiciously when GVSU’s travel bus spontaneously combusted and finished similarly, but the Lakers, who arguably played well above their means in the tournament, traveled home with heads held high. Making the tournament in it of itself is a feat worthy of recognition.

“At no time during the season did I feel that we were a top four team,” Forbes said. “No disrespect to any of our players, I just felt that we were lacking in some areas that we needed to go deep in the tournament. If you would have told me going into the tournament that we were going to be in the final against Michigan State, I might have laughed at you. As it turned out, we were able to and you can’t discount the efforts of those players that you have and their willingness to step up to do the work and take care of business.”

For five of the seven seniors on the squad, this is to be the end of the line. Despite the loss, they’ll skate away from the program proud.

“We couldn’t have played any better – I felt like we played our best hockey of the year,” said senior team captain Craig Marrett. “Unfortunately in the final game, the bounces didn’t go our way, but we gave it everything we got. No regrets. Play as hard as you can because you only have so little time to be able to do so – it’ll be over before you know it. A successful tournament, the only thing we’d like to change is the score of the final game.”

With 19 of 24 seasoned and tournament tested players set to return next year, there figures to be only a few holes to patch and the team goals will be the same as they always are in 2013-2014 – to make it back to the national tournament.

“I told the guys that I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the international hockey league back in the 1980’s and we went to five tournament cup championships in five years and we only won two,” Forbes said. “The key is to get there and have the opportunity. We’ve been knocking on the door and I think we’ve got the personnel in place to be a very, very good, full team to compete next year.”
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