Close-knit D3 hockey club eyes next level

GVL/Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff #

Abbey Haji-Sheikh

While the seats of the Georgetown Ice Arena fill with fans, the vibrations of heavy bass bump in Jack Lindsay’s headphones as he ties his left skate, always his left skate first, and visualizes stonewalling his opponent yet again.

The freshman goalie finishes up his routine (left skate, left pad, right skate, right pad) and joins his teammates as the Division III Grand Valley State hockey team leaves the locker room to warm up.

Freshman forward Alex Bjork hangs back, waiting for his teammates to finish filing out. Bjork, a slave to his own superstitions, has to be the last one on the ice.

One of two men’s hockey teams to represent GVSU, this D-III team has shot out to 15-10 record in the 2014-15 season. It seems as though routines and superstitions are part of a winning formula.

As important as they are to the players’ mental game, rituals aren’t the only things getting the boys out on top. A mix of talent and rapport gives the team a distinctive edge in their matchups.

“I think we’ve proven that when we’re on top of our game, we can definitely play with anybody,” Bjork said.

The mental and physical commitment of playing hockey can be taxing on the players. Sometimes the coaching staff, led by head coach Charlie Link, steps in and helps players deal with life just as much as with hockey.

Both Bjork and Lindsay say the coaching staff is supportive and encouraging, sometimes coming to practice early just to chat and catch up with their players.

The coaching staff’s extensive hockey experience is another facet the team takes advantage of. Link, who is in his sixth season at the helm, is a scout for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, a USHL team based in Michigan.

“On the ice, they’re really good about watching the other team’s systems, breaking them down and telling us what to do to counteract them,” Bjork said.

Bjork also credits team success to good communication and chemistry between players, saying that his line gels well and gets results.

“We’re basically at the point now where wherever I’m at with the puck, if my head’s looking at them or not, I can tell where they’re at on the ice,” he said.

Although he plays between the pipes and not between the goal lines, Lindsay says he can tell that the boys are meshing in a such a way that breeds success.

“It can kind of play a disadvantage to us,” he said. “Like we’re so close to each other that I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid to call someone out on something. It works both ways, but we try to keep it constructive.”

A common weakness in hockey teams is failing to give 100 percent effort for the full 60 minutes. The D-III team is not exempt from this, sometimes succumbing to a bad habit of showing up for the first period — then disappearing.

“Putting three periods together and playing them consistently is something we need to improve,” Bjork said.

Earlier in the season, the team was up 2-1 on Oakland University — ranked first in the ACHA Division III North Region — but ran out of steam, resulting in a loss. The team has started to put complete games together in the last few weeks, however. 

The Lakers notched a 12-0 victory against Toledo before winter break, and bested Adrian College in another high-scoring affair, 7-4, the next day. The team then travelled south to sweep Florida Gulf Coast in a two-game series.

This past weekend, the win streak ended at four games as GVSU fell to the University of Michigan-Flint in two losses, 2-1 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday. The team will look to bounce back at home against Hope College this weekend at Georgetown at 7 p.m.