All hands on deck

Duncan MacLean • Updated Dec 21, 2017 at 12:15 AM

MUSKEGON — The Buccaneers and Lakers have combined over their love of the frozen pond to great effect this winter, forming a crew of plundering seafarers.

The Grand Haven — Spring Lake co-op hockey team picked up their sixth straight victory Wednesday night over O-K Tier 3 opponent Kenowa Hills-Fruitport by a final score of 3-0, putting their team-centric game and motto of “be better” on display.

“We got better today. That may not be the way we expected it to go, but we got the win against a conference team,” Grand Haven head coach Keegan Ferris said. “We label all our conference games as must-haves, and we got it done today. Even though Kenowa-Fruitport has been struggling, that is a good team. They have some kids who can play.”

A scoreless first period showed the visitors to the Lakeshore Sports Centre were keen to avenge a 14-3 loss in their previous outing. Contested play in the neutral zone and poor puck control by the Bucs kept them off the board until the second period.

The tides turned to the seafarers in the second, as Grand Haven sailed into a 5-on-3 power play, giving them the space they needed to operate on offense. Some clean communication and passing led to an outside goal by Grand Haven junior Christian Forbes with nine minutes left in the period, reminding the Bucs of their potent offense.

“The last three games the first period has been our nemesis. We have just had trouble getting going,” Ferris said. “We kept moving our feet and the ice slowly, ever so slowly, started to tilt our way.

“It wasn’t until those power plays in the second period that we really started moving the puck. Our best periods are the ones that we put pucks on net and are crashing the rebounds. We weren’t able to do that until that 5-on-3 came along, and we had a lot of space. We remembered what that feels like and got going.”

Three minutes later, Grand Haven senior Austin Fox padded the lead with a nifty backhand flick in transition, putting the Bucs up 2-0 with 5:57 left to play in the period, a lead they held into the final break.

Kenowa Hills kicked off the third period with a 5-on-3 of their own, but failed to capitalize against a stout Grand Haven defense.

The stop was good for a final momentum swing, as Grand Haven sophomore Cooper Fox took the failed attempt down the ice for a top-shelf rip from the wing in transition, capping the score at 3-0.

The three-score victory handed Grand Haven their third conference win in as many tries this season, leaving them atop of the O-K Tier 3 early in the season for the first time in recent memory.

“Six wins in a row and 3-0 in conference, we are on a bit of a roll right now,” Ferris said. “The program hasn’t been on a roll like that in a few years. We have a special group right now, and they have bought in. The culture we set out to have when we started, they have bought into. No matter what we want to be learning and getting better every day.”

With three unique scorers Wednesday and five players sitting between 10 and 16 points on the year, the Bucs are showing their improvement as a team, not just as individuals.

“That is one of the effects of these kids buying in,” Ferris said. “Our culture is that of a team. It is pretty exciting to have a bunch of unselfish players that are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.

“As a coach looking at opponents I ask, ‘Who is their guy,’ and you look at point totals to find out. With our guys, you can’t tell. You ask me who our key players are and I say we don’t have them. They are all key players. That is pretty exciting as a coach.”

With the winter season still young for the Bucs, their motto of “be better” and their team-first attitude could take them to new heights this year, but their road is long fraught with challenge.

They return to the ice at Lakeshore Sports Centre on Saturday to take on Bay Reps at 11:30 a.m.

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