The Saline boys’ varsity ice hockey season was dealt two blows during an otherwise successful 2017-18 campaign.
First junior winger Gordie Niethammer went down hard into the boards and suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just eight games into the season. Then the Hornets drew an incredibly tough playoff draw. Saline went to Trenton to face Trenton – a traditional high school hockey powerhouse.
On a cold and snowy night, Saline lost 4-0. Trenton went on to the state championship game before losing to Hartland.
“Of course, I would have rather played a playoff game or two before we hit the quality and speed of Trenton,” said Saline hockey head coach Paul Fassbender. “But some years it’s not in the cards.”
Against Trenton, Saline needed a full 51-minute game.
“Whenever you play a team like Trenton you cannot afford to give them quality opportunities. That’s what we did. I feel we took the second period off,” Fassbender said. “We had two quality opportunities to score first and we didn’t. We also had five or six great scoring opportunities that we couldn’t capitalize on in the third.”
The loss of Niethammer hurt Saline’s top line and the overall offensive depth.
“The Gordie injury hurt us more than expected. We had three quality lines when we had everyone. He brings a lot of the heart and soul to the lineup,” Fassbender said.
Still, it was a great season for the Hornets, who finished 20-5-1. Saline went 9-0 in the SEC Red to repeat as conference champions.
Saline opened the season with eight straight wins before losing at Marquette.
“I think we are happy with the season. But it’s always tough when you bow out in the first game of the playoffs,” he said.
Saline graduates several seniors, including captain Alex Birkle, goalie Jeffrey Gilbert, defenseman Ben Stimac and forwards Tom Raupp and Zach Harrison. The Hornets boast a wealth of returning talent. But coach Fassbender issued a challenge to his squad.
“We have quality players returning. But it’s up to the players now. At some point, you have to want it. You have to work to get better. We have video of every game that players can watch whenever they want if they want to improve,” Fassbender said. “Getting better doesn’t happen because you are a year older. You have to work for it. How hard are they willing to work.”
Fassbender is counting on hard work, because he’s lined up an even stronger schedule.
Returning Hornets include the following award winners.
Brendan Murphy – Defense. First Team All State, First Team SEC Red. The hard-hitting, hard-shooting defenseman scored 22 goals and had 26 assists.
Logan Dejanovich – Center. First Team SEC Red. The shifty playmaking Dejanovich scored 9 goals and had 21 assists.
Mikhail Lozovyy – Winger. First Team SEC Red. The tall, rangy winger used his reach and soft hands to produce 14 goals and 15 assists.
Mason Ausmus – Defense. First Team SEC. The speedy, smooth-skating defenseman scored five goals and had 18 assists while being a key puck transporter for Saline.
Collin Clark – Center. SEC Red Honorable Mention. The speedy and gritty center scored nine goals and tallied 19 assists.
Nick Miller – Defense. SEC Red Honorable Mention. A two-way defenseman with speed, Miller scored two goals and added 12 assists.