TAWAS CITY – Tawas Area may have been undermanned in its hockey season opener Friday night. The Braves certainly weren’t overmatched, however, as they picked up a high-scoring 8-6 win over visiting Grand Blanc at the Tawas Bay Ice Arena. The contest doubled as a first-round game in Tawas’ home tournament.
“It was good hard work by all the kids,” head coach Mel Rettell said. “We had a short bench but they all contributed. Even the ones that only played a few minutes played a big part, giving us some much-needed rest and I was real happy with that.”
Due to multiple factors, the Braves had just nine players in uniform for the contest. This didn’t slow down the team however, as they scored a program record for goals in a game.
Playing a huge part in the win was the hot-hand of Jeff Shirkey. The senior scored four of the team’s first five goals and finished with five overall on the night. His five goals was also a single game record for the team.
“It wasn’t just this night, it was the two weeks of practice before this,” Rettell said of Shirkey. “He has been going at it 100-percent every single day in practice. When it got to game time, it just made it that much easier for him.”
It took just 48 seconds for the Braves to crack the scoreboard. Shirkey corralled the puck near the boards on the right side of the rink. He skated towards the center of the ice, then passed off the puck between a pair of defenders to the stick of Sawyer Ulman, who tapped it home for the 1-0 lead.
About five minutes later Shirkey was able to get his first goal of the night. He stole the puck near center ice, outskated the Grand Blanc defense and back-handed the puck into the net for the 2-0 lead with 11:46 to play in the period.
“First game of the season and you get a couple of early goals like that, it’s nice,” Rettell said. “You don’t have to worry about if we are going to score, it took a lot of pressure off for sure. Even getting the first win, we don’t have to worry about that now, we can just play. It was a big win for sure.”
Grand Blanc, which boasts an enrollment of more than 2,700 students, was able to pull within 2-1 with 11:13 to go in the period. The Bobcats fired a close-range shot which Ethan Haire was able to save, however the rebound bounced out to a Grand Blanc player, allowing him to fire it into the net.
The Braves had several strong scoring chances in the final minutes of the opening period, including three by Shirkey alone. The Bobcats were able to fend of the Braves each time however, leaving the score 2-1 after one.
The start of the second period was much like the start of the first. Ulman was able to win the puck from the Grand Blanc defense, and he delivered a firm pass to Shirkey, who finished off the one-timer with a blast into the back of the net.
Haire was able to make solid saves on back-to-back trips down the ice by Grand Blanc, including one break-away opportunity. This allowed Tawas to pull ahead 4-1, as Joseph Ernst delivered a pass from behind the net to Shirkey, who was able to easily tap in the puck. Ulman was also credited with an assist on the play.
Haire came up big during a Grand Blanc power play that started with 11:30 to play in the period, though shortly after it ended, the Bobcats won a battle for the puck in front of the net and blasted a shot in, making it 4-2.
Grand Blanc’s comeback bid was aided by a pair of Tawas penalties, including a five-minute major with 6:43 to play in the second. The Bobcats promptly scored a pair of goals against during the power play, knotting things up at 4-4 with 6:08 to play.
Tawas was able to fend off the Grand Blanc attack the rest of the duration of the major penalty, and even added a short-handed goal by Shirkey, who scored unassisted after claiming the puck on a steal.
Grand Blanc was able to tie the game at 5-apiece early in the third period, but goals by Ulman and Jacob Barnes pushed Tawas back ahead 7-5 with nine minutes to play. Ulman’s goal was assisted by Shirkey and Ernst while Barnes was fed by Aiden Berlin and Shirkey.
The Braves nearly iced the game with about seven minutes left. Shirkey was able to steal a pass and skated the other way for a two-on-one opportunity. Shirkey flipped a pass to Ernst, who got a solid shot on goal but the Grand Blanc net-minder made quick-handed save. The Bobcats pulled their goal with about three minutes remaining, and quickly turned that into a goal to make it 7-6 with 2:49 to play.
With the goalie still on the bench, Grand Blanc nearly tied it up again about 45 seconds later, however Haire came up with a huge glove save on a breakaway blast from just 10-feet out.
With time running out, Shirkey added the exclamation point to the victory, as he swiped the puck from a Grand Blanc player, showed off his speed down the ice and easily tapped the puck into the net for the 8-6 lead.
“The kids don’t have all the same talents but they have the same work ethic and they tried hard and it paid off,” Rettell said. “They just don’t quit. We teach the kids that the scoreboard doesn’t matter, we just want them to play as hard as you can and good things usually turn out.”
Haire was credited with the win in goal.
“I was really happy with the crowd,” Rettell said. “It was a good atmosphere, it was good to get the first win of the season and get us into the finals of the tournament.”
On Saturday, in the championship game of the tourney, the Braves came up short to Port Huron, 6-2.
“Port Huron picked up a couple of kids from (travel hockey) and they are a co-op team now and picked up a few kids from that too,” Rettell said. “I am happy for them, their coach has put in a lot of time there and usually only had eight or nine kids in his program. It was hard for us, we only had nine skaters so we couldn’t keep up the pace. We did OK in the first period but they got some quick ones in the second and that took some gas out of the boys.”
The game was tied 1-1 after the first period, though Port Huron was able to pull control things in the second, getting five goals to lead 6-1 entering the third.
“Going into the third, we talked about it and said we really didn’t care about the score and just wanted to put our best foot forward and we ended up winning that period 1-0,” Rettell said. “I was pretty proud of them for that. They showed their resolve in the third and that will carry on to other games throughout the season.”
Shirkey netted both goals for the Braves, with Zac Boker finishing with one assist. Haire was in net in the loss.
Tawas (1-1 overall) heads to Southgate Anderson (0-2) on Friday.
“Hopefully we can just keep working hard and get the results that we want,” Rettell said. “I think it is going to be a pretty competitive game, we have a good chance of winning this one so we are looking forward to it.”