As Nick Vondra and Kaleb Peterson made the drive home from their playoff victory Wednesday, they couldn’t believe what had just happened and the ride they’ve experienced the last several months.
There was a loss for words, but one of the few that came out was, ‘Wow.’
It’s been that kind of journey this season for the seniors and their Capitol Area Patriots hockey team.
And it’s a season that will continue Saturday in a Division 1 regional championship game after the Patriots posted a 7-1 victory over Grand Ledge/Fowlerville on Wednesday.
Being a win away from the state quarterfinals marks quite the journey for a team that started the season 1-10.
“What a season,” Vondra said. “We turned it around, and we’re playing in a regional final. Nothing feels better. Obviously there’s sports where it feels good, like beating DeWitt in districts in football and in baseball, whatever it is, but there’s nothing been quite like this. To be such a poor team in the beginning and then turn it around – nothing has felt better in my sports career for sure.”
It’s been enjoyable for first-year coach Joe Ford to see what has transpired with his team. Ford said injuries and adjusting to a new staff all had roles in what’s been a rollercoaster journey. But the Patriots are healthy now and surging entering Saturday’s regional final against East Kentwood. They are 9-0-1 since Jan. 31.
“It took some time,” Ford said. “We started out 1-10 and it was rough. They needed to get used to me and I had to get used to them. There were some adjustments we had to make there. We kept working at it and we kept pushing rocks so to speak. We made some slight adjustments to our style of play and fortunately for us it started to pay off a little bit and we’ve been on quite a run. We’ve only lost two games since Christmas break and so we’ve been fortunate in that regard.”
The Patriots (12-11-2) have scored 15 goals in their state tournament wins over Holt and Grand Ledge/Fowlerville and hope to extend their turnaround story into next week’s quarterfinal.
“(We know) they play a better brand of hockey over in Grand Rapids, but we feel confident going into it,” Vondra said. “Our practices have been loose, they’ve been fast, they’ve been quick-paced. Everyone is flying right now. I’m pretty confident going into Saturday. I don’t know if we’ll win or not, but we’re going to keep playing good hockey for sure.”
Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj,com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.