With less than a week left until their playoff opener, the Grand Haven-Spring Lake co-op hockey team lit their proverbial fire Wednesday night with an 8-0 mercy win over winless Northview at the Lakeshore Sports Centre.
The Buccaneers used three-goal second and third periods to pull away from the Wildcats, after establishing an early two-goal lead in the opening period of play.
For the game, the Buccaneers ripped 44 shots on net and dominated both puck possession and pace of play.
"It was a good game for us to tune up some things and get ready for the postseason," said Grand Haven head coach Keegan Ferris. "Tonight was a great opportunity for us to continue our process of getting better as the season goes along. We've worked on some things at practice lately, and we executed well in most of those aspects in a real-game scenario against an opponent.
"We were down on their end of the ice for most of the game and possessed the puck really well. We came into the game focused on dominating possession as a team and making sure we moved the puck across the middle and got off some quick shots, and we definitely showed that we are capable of doing that.
"Now, we have one more game to get ready for the playoffs next week."
Sophomore forward Braden Nielsen recorded a hat trick to lead the Buccaneer attack, while seniors Kyle Eveland, Trevor Kalis and Ethan Pennington and juniors Cooper Fox and Luke Rantanen each light the lamp once.
Fox added a team-high four assists, while Kalis added three helpers and Pennington and Nathan Beers each added one assist.
"It's great to see some of our younger guys really step up like that," said Ferris. "The last few weeks, we've been giving some of the younger guys more playing time to get them used to the pace of varsity hockey. I was really excited to see Braden have that kind of success tonight, and I'm sure that'll be a nice confidence boost for him."
Ferris, a 2009 graduate of Northview High School, doesn't view the matchups against his former program as an oddity anymore.
"It was a little weird at first when I was coaching at Forest Hills Northern-Eastern and we played them a few times each season," he said. "Even the first year or two here at Grand Haven, it was a little weird, because I knew some of the kids on their roster just from being a part of that community and growing up there.
"I also know their coaching staff really well, but at this point in my career, I'm pretty established here. This is home for me now, and it's not quite as strange going up against Northview. Obviously, it's still fun to play them and see those guys, but it's not as a nerve-wracking. I'm not standing behind the bench thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the school that I went to.'"
The Grand Haven-Spring Lake co-op hockey program will celebrate Senior Night on Friday with a 7:30 p.m. matchup against Jenison (15-7-1,5-4-1 Fischer), before taking on Traverse City West (6-15-2) in their playoff opener on Tuesday (8 p.m.) at Griff's Ice House in Grand Rapids.
"That'll be one last tune-up before playoff start next week," said Ferris. "Jenison is a good team, and we were fortunate the last time we played them to take advantage of a few penalties on them in the third period to pull away for a big win at their place.
"Right now, we're moving off the puck well. We struggled with that early on in the season and we weren't getting enough shots off. We struggled to score early in the season and that's because we weren't shooting enough.
"We generated a lot of opportunities tonight, and that's a positive step for us as we get ready to make a run in the postseason."