With a pivotal playoff win tonight, Grand Haven is determined to add its name to that exclusive list.
The two rivals square off for another postseason tussle tonight at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, during the Division 1 pre-regional final. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
The Buccaneers and Sailors have met twice already this season, with each team scoring a victory. Grand Haven secured its first-ever win against Mona Shores on Dec. 14, a thrilling 2-1 final at the Bucs’ home rink at Edge Ice Arena in Holland. A week later, the Sailors avenged that loss. Grand Haven scored the first two goals in the contest at Lakeshore Ice Centre, but Mona roared back with five unanswered in its victory.
Grand Haven opened the playoffs with an easy 8-2 win over Grand Rapids West Catholic on Monday, setting up a third meeting with Shores. Grand Haven coach Dan Gadbois said both teams know each other well from top to bottom.
“We’ve faced each other enough that we both know how we operate and their personality,” Gadbois said, whose squad stands at 17-6-2 this season. “There are no surprises with what each of us will try to do.
“The first key for us is discipline,” he added. “We’re going to try to use our speed to create some scoring chances, but we can’t get caught up and take foolish penalities. Their power play will put us away. It’s really vice versa. I’m sure they can’t take a lot of foolish penalities because we have a good power play, too.”
A difference with the Bucs from a year ago, Gadbois said, is their superior depth among four lines. Added with the talents of brothers Doug and Tom Zelenka, Grand Haven has also received consistent goal scoring from juniors Ian Hibbard, Jordan Klaassen and James Dyksterhouse, as well as seniors Austin Way and Rowan Daniels.
“We’re pretty balanced, which I like,” Gadbois said.
What concerns Gadbois is some recent lapses with the Bucs’ defense, which has caused them to play from behind in pair of late regular season games against Rockford and East Grand Rapids. Grand Haven was able to rally for ties against both opponents.
The Bucs’ goalies — Mark Nalley and Zach Kooi — are also untested in the pressure-packed setting of the playoffs.
The Sailors have reached the Division 2 state championship game four times since the 2000 season, including one title. A year ago, Mona Shores advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Kingsford, 5-3. One of its playoff wins en route to that round was against Grand Haven, a 5-0 blowout.
But the Sailors aren’t exactly roaring into the playoffs this season, having dropped eight games, including a 5-4 overtime setback to Grandville last week. The Sailors coughed up a 4-1 third-period lead in that contest.
The Sailors are led by talented forwards Reed Hrynewich and Adam Ulfsaex, who have combined for more than 25 goals this season.