GVSU D2 club hockey falls in semifinals of ACHA National Championship

GVL / Emily Frye      
Tom Lusynski takes the punk down the ice during the game against Michigan State on Friday Jan. 27, 2017.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Tom Lusynski takes the punk down the ice during the game against Michigan State on Friday Jan. 27, 2017.

Robbie Triano

After a month-long hiatus awaiting the ACHA Division II National Championship tournament, the Grand Valley State men’s club hockey team (DII) finally stepped onto the ice willing to prove itself as the nation’s top team starting Wednesday, March 15, in Columbus, Ohio.

The Lakers ended their regular season (23-4-3) and carried that success into the tournament winning their first three pool-play games. Wins included an 8-5 victory over University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 3-0 win over Ohio University, and a back-and-forth 4-3 victory over William Paterson University.

But GVSU’s title hopes came to a close after losing a 4-3 dogfight against Liberty University in the semifinals Saturday, March 18. Although the outcome didn’t sway in their direction, head coach Mike Forbes told his team they had nothing to hang their heads about.

“There wasn’t just one thing you could point or a finger at any one person on why we lost that game,” Forbes said. “We ended the season with around 20 games without a loss before Liberty. To put together that type of string and be one game away from a national final, all I could tell the team after the game was there’s nothing to be ashamed of and it was a pleasure to coach them.”

GVSU found themselves dug in a 2-0 hole against Liberty until freshman Ryan Hein scored with 25 seconds remaining in the first period. Alex Ostrowski brought the score even after scoring with nine minutes into the second period.

From that point on, both teams exchanged back-and-forth goals including one by GVSU’s Ryker Barber to make it 3-3 with 12 minutes left in regulation.

With one minute remaining, Liberty’s top scorer Devon Docksteader controlled the puck after a faceoff in the Liberty zone. Docksteader then proceeded to skate toward the GVSU zone and tacked on the game’s deciding goal with 45 seconds remaining to give his team the 4-3 victory.

“Their leading scorer was the wrong guy who ended up with the puck and he made a very nice play and that’s just the way it went,” Forbes said. “We had a couple of good looks in the last 30 seconds, but Liberty had some blocked shots and made a couple of great saves. I thought we dominated for two periods of hockey, but sometimes it’s just not meant to be.”

Although a bitter ending to his team’s season, the freshman standout Hein couldn’t be disappointed with their performance.

“There’s no reason we should have our heads down,” Hein said. “I think the last game against Liberty was a tough loss because we deserved to win.

“We outshot them and played them the whole second and third period, but they got a lucky bounce at the right time. You can’t win them all and it’s a tough pill we have to swallow.”

Notable Laker performances over the four game period were: Barber (five goals), Tommy Carey (three goals, one assist), Zach Resnick (four assists), Troy Marrett (three goals), and Collin Finkhouse (one goal, two assists). Goaltender Jared Maddock finished the tournament with a 3-1 record and 86 saves.

Competing against programs who have the ability to recruit nationally and internationally, coach Forbes commends his players for choosing to commit their time and talents without scholarship to GVSU.

“On Liberty University’s team they only have one player from the United States and the rest are either recruited from Canada or Sweden,” Forbes said. “The kids who play for us come to Grand Valley and just want to play hockey. It speaks very highly of our program and the kids we have so we can compete against these independent schools that play by an entirely different set of rules. That’s a complement to our players year in and out.”

The wound of losing is still fresh in the minds of Forbes and Hein, but the success of this season and the momentum the Lakers plan to carry into the next gives reason for optimism. The Lakers are graduating only four seniors in Finkhouse, Reede Burnett, Ostrowski, and Spencer Craig.

“I’ve told the guys on this team many times too that this is the most fun and the best team I have ever played on,” Hein said. “It’s hard to find such a close group of guys and it was a blast to be a part of every minute with them.

‘“I’m already really looking forward to getting back on the ice with almost the same exact players. We’re going to come out the jump already knowing each other and going to excel. We don’t even know who we’re going to have come up as freshmen so we’re already very excited.”

The 2016-17 Lakers is a team Forbes says he will never forget.

“We had some drama through the years and this team was nothing close to teams we’ve had in the past,” Forbes said. “Our program got everything we could’ve out of our players and you can’t ask for more as a team and I can’t ask for more as a coach.”