When Patrick Rabbitt was the coach of the Muskegon Catholic Central/Spring Lake Crusaders hockey club, one of his team's biggest rivals was Grand Haven.
So Rabbit didn't need to any prepping to realize how big Wednesday's showdown was between his new team — the Mona Shores Sailors — and the Buccaneers.
The two powerhouse programs have locked horns in some fierce battles over the past few years, but Wednesday's game turned out to be no contest. The Sailors scored twice in a 34-second span to start the second period and sailed away with a 5-1 victory over the Buccaneers.
"This is a big conference game," said Rabbitt, whose team is now 3-0 on the season. "We split our games last year, then we played them again in the playoffs. I've played against (Grand Haven coach) Dan (Gadbois) for a number of years, and he always has his guys ready to battle.
"We have to be ready to match them."
The Sailors were certainly ready to match the Bucs on Wednesday. They came out firing on all cylinders, although it was Grand Haven that scored first when Jordan Klaassen lit the lamp on an assist from James Dysterhouse. A Bucs’ power play had just expired, but Grand Haven kept the puck deep in its offensive zone, and that pressure paid off when Klaassen fired a shot past Sailors’ goalie Nate Rabbitt.
Mona Shores tied the game a few minutes later. The Bucs failed to clear the puck out of their zone, which led to a penalty. The Sailors took advantage as Alec Sturr chipped a shot past Bucs' goalie Zach Kooi to tie the game at 1-1.
The Sailors then took control of the game when Adam Ulfsax scored back-to-back goals just 34 seconds apart early in the second period.
"Credit to them, they played well," said Gadbois, whose team suffered its first loss of the season. "That's a very good hockey team. The first period, they owned it, and we were lucky to be in it at 1-1. Coming out into the second, we felt pretty good, then bang, bang, it's 3-1. Then we get stupid at the end of the second, we're on a power play, and we have four kids watching and all of a sudden it's 4-1."
The shorthanded goal Gadbois referred to was scored by Sturr. Austin Swiatek then buried a shot past Kooi in the closing minutes of the third period for the final margin of victory.
Swiatek's goal came just moments after both teams got involved in a scrum on the ice that sent several players from both teams into the penalty box.
Mona Shores finished with 27 shots on goal to the Bucs' 18. The Sailors' strong skating and aggressive play kept the Bucs on their heels for much of the evening. Grand Haven had a difficult time setting up on offense, and on defense, struggled to clear the puck out of their own zone.
"When you look at the makeup of our team, we have 17 returning players, and we do skate well when we put the effort forth," Rabbitt said. "When you look at the parity in the O-K Conference, you've got to come out ready every single game, and with high school kids, consistency is the big issue."
Rabbitt raved about the Bucs' top line, which includes Ian Hibbard and Tom Zelenka. But Gadbois was quick to point out that his team's top offensive grouping was a minus-three for the game.
“That’s the first time all year that’s happened,” Gadbois said.
Note: The Sailors joined into a co-op agreement with Spring Lake this year, adding a few Lakers’ players to an already-strong Sailors’ program. Only two Spring Lake student-athletes — Nick Soto and Eric Raphaelina — joined the team this winter. Previously, Spring Lake was involved in a co-op with Muskegon Catholic Central.