“This team offensively is a gem,” said Grand Haven head coach Bill Hamm. “A challenge we’ve addressed is playing team defense. We saw that today.”
In the first quarter, the Bucs seemed to have Rockford’s number. After conceding two goals in the opening four minutes, Grand Haven calibrated their coverage and were able to hold the Rams to just three total goals in the opening period. Meanwhile, the offensive gem Coach Hamm described glimmered.
Junior standout Mason Fritz lit up the away scoreboard for the first time with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter, but Rockford quickly answered upholding their two-goal lead.
The last minute of the opening quarter was all Bucs. After drawing an exclusion, Fritz scored his second goal of the game on the ensuing power play, putting Grand Haven down 3-2. As time expired, Grant Ruster served up a backhanded goal to beat the buzzer and tie the game at three.
Grand Haven opened up the second quarter by taking their only lead of the game. Joshua Koornneef did the honors with an effective pump-fake and shot from the outside. Realizing they were in a hole, Rockford responded with an unstoppable barrage of offense, netting the next six goals.
Fritz, determined to keep his Bucs in the conversation, recorded his hat trick in the final minute of the half, leaving Rockford ahead 10-5 at the break.
Both teams started the second-half swinging. Rockford netted an early goal before Fritz finessed his way to the back of the net with a backhanded lob shot. Immediately following, Reilly Wiesnewski scored his lone goal of the day on a close-range windup.
Koornheef finished off the third quarter on a scoring tear. He grabbed three-straight goals as time wound down for the Bucs.
In the end, Rockford proved to be too complete a team for the Bucs. They were outscored 3-1 in the fourth quarter. Fritz netted the final goal of the game on a breakaway wet-shot. He led the Bucs in goals with four total and tied with Grant Ruster to lead the team with four steals.
“(I’m) happy to be playing as well as we did,” Hamm added. We saw some of their tricks, so we will know for next time. Fortunately, we found where our weak spots are dimensionally on offense. … I think we did pretty well for most of those four quarters.”
Grand Haven returns to the pool to take on district opponent and No. 5-ranked Zeeland on Wednesday. They sit at 1-0 in district play after a win against West Ottawa last week.
“The main thing we are going to work on is making sure we don’t let our emotions get away from us,” Hamm said. “We let that happen here tonight, and we let that happen last time we played them (Zeeland). They (Zeeland) are always a team that rides on their emotions and tries to get you out of your game emotionally. We are going to make sure we are playing calm, cool and collected.”
The Bucs are sitting at No. 8 in the state rankings behind fellow west region teams Rockford (No.1), Hudsonville (No. 3) and Zeeland (No. 5). Eight teams, four from both the West and East regions, will compete at the state tournament based on their play in the regional and district post-season tournaments.