The two teams qualified for the highest tournament seeds in club history
By Robbie Triano | 4/12/17 10:36pm
The Grand Valley State men's club roller hockey teams (Division I and III) qualified for and competed in the 2017 National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championship in Fort Myers, Florida from Sunday, April 5, through Thursday, April 9.
Although both the DI and DIII teams qualified for the highest pool play seeds in the program's eight-year history, both teams finished the tournament with only one win and four losses to end their season and national championship hopes.
The DI team's lone victory came against West Chester as the Lakers won 3-1, advancing them into the tournament's Elite Eight. The Lakers' season-leading scorer Garrett Polish (34 goals, 24 assists) finished the game with two goals while teammate Aaron Mizgalski tacked on the team's other goal.
But the DI team's tournament came to a close as an experienced Michigan State team broke a 2-2 tie in the third period to deliver its team a 3-2 victory over the Lakers. Laker goal scorers came from sophomore Cody Hagen and junior Kenny Wurth.
"We play (Michigan State) all year long, so we knew to expect that it would be a close game until the finish," said coach Isaac Washburn. "We battled and we stayed the course.
"At the end of the day, you wish you could move further in the tournament, but we took a big step in our program advancing one round further than we ever had before."
A major reason for their poor tournament records was both teams' improved records placed the Lakers in the most challenging pool of competition. The DI squad lost to the eventual champion Farmingdale 4-3 Sunday, April 5, and to back-to-back champion Neumann 5-1 Monday, April 6, just in the first round of pool play.
Even though the competition against tournament heavyweights proved to be too much for the Lakers, Washburn believes his teams' elevated their play to a level he couldn't hang his head about.
"We knew going into the tournament that the competition was going to be better right off the bat, but it took learning some tough lessons the hard way to adjust the competition," Washburn said. "But when you look at the scores and the way we played, we proved that we did belong in those positions. We were in a spot we were never in before and we had to learn how to stay close in games to get victories."
Polish, DI captain and selection to the Division 1 All-MCRHL 1st Team, agreed with his coach in terms of competition his team faced.
"They were by far the best teams we played all season," Polish said. "Our team handled it pretty well as we never stopped grinding. Within the top eight teams, there is not a lot of difference between them. It came down to the little things."
The DIII team experienced similar troubles in pool play as they lost to eventual champions Lindenwood 10-3, runner-up Farmingdale 2-1 and Michigan State 5-2. Laker goals came from Justin Sims (three goals), Wesley Guthrie, Carl Soderling, and Tyler Glenfield.
The Lakers' next game against Cortland was a completely different story as they demolished the Dragons 8-2 to advance to the semifinals Wednesday, April 8. Both Sims and Glenfield scored a hat trick while teammate Daniel Nielsen added the other two Laker goals.
GVSU had a chance to redeem themselves against Lindenwood, but fell short 7-4 to end the season. Regular season leading scorer Soderling (17 goals, 15 assists) was aware of his team's struggles, but felt they made a name for themselves in the tournament.
"We had some ups and downs trying to match the fast pace and precise shots against teams that eat up mistakes, but we can't complain about that now. Those are the games you want to play because it's at the highest level," Soderling said. "Overall, I think we handled the competition well, especially against Farmingdale and Lindenwood in the semifinals. It showed we could hang with the best of them and I'm proud of how the team performed."
With both teams' seasons now in the rear-view mirror for, Washburn reflects on this year's successes and future goals down the road.
"Our roster last year was incredibly youthful and young. Those guys left the tournament last year wanting much more, so we put the work in this year and our improvement showed with our placement in the tournament," Washburn said. "Both teams can walk away knowing that they put up a fight until the very end. We're going to take this a learning experience as we only lose four seniors this year.
"From now on, it's just going to be hammering the positives and trying to move forward."