The Admirals' Cup is something the Homestead boys hockey team looks forward to every winter break.
Even more so this year, when the 9-1 North Shore Conference contenders beat the WNS Storm, 10-0, on Dec. 23, Fond du Lac, 5-1, on Dec. 26 and Marquette, 5-3, on Dec. 27, to claim the title in the annual event and give the Highlanders some serious momentum heading into one of their most important stretches of the season.
"The guys love to play at the Bradley Center, they get so excited when they get down there," Homestead coach Tony Navarre said, "and to play in the championship game means even more to them."
Homestead wants to even things up in the North Shore this week. They host the Storm at 8 p.m. Friday at the Ozaukee Ice Center and then come back to the same rink on Saturday when they play Cedarburg at 6 p.m. Cedarburg gave the Highlanders their only loss of the season.
Patience pays off
The Highlanders' latest set of victories provides validation to the patience the Highlanders showed last season when area rival the Storm, was riding high, claiming the North Shore title and landing a berth in the WIAA state tournament.
That patience and a year's experience have given Homestead the same hope that the Storm had last season.
"We have a different kind of experience this year," Navarre said. "There were parts of our game where we struggled last year, but we were patient. We had some good scorers on the junior varsity level but we kept them down there and got them some good experience.
"Now they're with us and helping us out."
One of those players, junior forward Riley Dixon, is now aiding the high-scoring first line that includes senior Ryan Mezera and the mighty mite, sophomore forward Joey Hobbs (5-4, 130).
The second line is highlighted by 6-1, 170-pound senior transfer student Cole Simpson, who plays alongside seniors Jon Weyker and Michael Schulz.
On the third line, Navarre is very pleased with the play of freshman Brady Bjork, who goes in with senior Jake Hansen and either junior Max Henry or sophomore Joseph Verespei.
"That third line plays against others' seconds and we get some really good matchups out of it," Navarre said. "Overall, we're just getting good production out of all three lines."
The defense is anchored by junior Adam Hobbs and sophomore Sean Driscoll. Navarre said they do not play on the same line together. "We need to have one of them on the ice at all times," he said.
Mezera and Schulz are the team co-captains while Adam Hobbs is an assistant captain.
Leadership steps up
Navarre likes the leadership in the team and liked even more how it showed up in the Admirals' Cup title.
"I really liked the fact that we could play back-to-back games against teams of good caliber," he said. "It's good we get that kind of experience this early. It shows us that we're capable of qualifying for state and representing the area well.
"To beat both of them (Fond du lac and Marquette) was huge."
In the title game win over Marquette, the Highlanders led from the start, as Mezera had two goals and Schulz, Simpson and Joey Hobbs one each. Schulz scored with about six minutes to go to make it 4-2 and effectively clinch the game as Mezera added an empty net score in the final seconds.
What Navarre also liked about the tournament were how the Highlanders improved in some key technical areas.
"Our forecheck is improving and we're running a new defensive zone coverage this season," he said. "The boys have taken a little bit for time to get a handle of it but they have done their hockey homework and know their roles."
In the win over Fond du lac, the Highlanders scored four goals in the third period to pull away, as Max Henry, Mezera, Joey Hobbs and Schulz all found the back of the net in quick succession to go along with a first period score from Simpson. Adam Hobbs had two assists.
Navarre said that he had to use three different goalies in the event as athletes were gone on holiday trips. Senior Killian Martin is the team's regular keeper.
A GOOD CAUSE
Bone marrow drive to be held
WHAT'S UP?: The North Shore tournament will be held Jan. 10 and 11 at the Ozaukee Ice Center and in conjunction with that, a bone marrow registration drive and fundraiser will be held on the 11th from noon-5 p.m. at the Center. The Grafton hockey program is co-sponsoring it. The drive is especially important to Navarre who just passed the two-year point in his ongoing recovery from leukemia. He was the recipient of a successful bone marrow transplant and urges everyone who is eligible (healthy people ages 18-44 are prime candidates) to get themselves screened to be a possible donor. Visit www.bcw.edu/marrow for more information.
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