Lakers eye fourth straight title appearance

GVL / Archive
9: Brad Wilhelm

GVL / Archive 9: Brad Wilhelm

Adam Knorr

Peaking at the right time can lead a team to unmatched postseason success. Peaking too early can lead to the early demise of a talented team. But what happens when a team peaks at the end of the season, then takes a break from competition for more than a month?

That’s what the Grand Valley State University men’s club hockey team will have to figure out on Friday at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass.

“I’m really concerned about our first game,” GVSU head coach Mike Forbes said. “We’re not real sharp in practice at this point because there’s a lot of boredom, so I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement. It’ll just be a matter of us trying to simplify things and get into a flow from there.”

GVSU (20-7-1) hasn’t played since Feb. 15 when it beat Central Michigan University 11-5. The Lakers were winning with regularity before that game, too, with victories in nine of their last 11 games of the regular season.

However, once the playoffs begin, there won’t be a grace period to get back into the swing of things. Playoffs simply don’t allow for that kind of thing.

“You need a lot of character,” junior captain Matt Smartt said. “You’re going to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

“You have to be able to stay even-keeled and bounce back when you need to, along with riding the momentum when you need to.”

Smartt and the Lakers know a thing or two about postseason success — they have played in the ACHA Division II National Championship game for three straight seasons.

The Lakers captured their only title in that span in 2011, besting Michigan State University 6-1. GVSU’s fortunes changed in 2012 and 2013, however, as the team lost both championship games.

For the seniors, the 2014 playoffs represent one last chance to repeat their championship success from their freshman year.

“It’s always an exhilarating time of year,” said senior Nick Heinrich, a staple of the Laker blue line. “It’s what we’ve been playing for all season. I believe it’s championship or bust.

“We aren’t accepting anything less than a ring at this point.”

The quest for a ring will begin in pool play against Liberty University, a sizable team chock-full of Canadian talent capable of causing matchup problems for GVSU.

Regardless of first-game results, GVSU will face off against New Hampshire Technical Institute on Saturday and Northern Arizona University on Sunday.

The three foes will all be new competition for GVSU but, as the Lakers know, any team that has made it to this stage is a force to be reckoned with.

If the top-seeded Lakers win their pool, they will be slated for a spot in the semifinal game on Monday.

They will just have to prove they didn’t peak too soon.