Friday night, Feb. 18, the Rockford varsity hockey team honored their seniors first with a ceremony to recognize their accomplishments both on and off the ice. This year’s senior class includes Eric Datema. Alex Schrotenboer, Zack King, Zack Vandawater, Mike Vandervelde and Thomas Soupal. Each of these players and their parents were introduced to an excited home crowd. All of these players have had a long and successful hockey career to this point. The time and support that their parents have put in for these many years was also something that could not be forgotten. From the time these boys first started playing the game when they were in grade school, their parents have been there to support them and cheer them on during the long road to get to this point. Understandably, all the moms and dads were both proud and emotional to stand there with their boys, who have all grown up to be fine student athletes.
With the beginning of the game being opened up with Matt Vermeer singing the National Anthem, the air in the arena was certainly filled with excitement. From the drop of the puck, Rockford was determined to take control of the game, and they certainly did. The first period was controlled by the Rams, even though they had to kill off a number of penalties. The Rams still kept the puck in the Manistee zone with a very aggressive fore check. The Manistee goalie saw plenty of shots in the first period, but fought off every one, as both teams skated to their locker rooms for the first intermission with the score tied at 0-0.
The second period saw the Rams continue to put pressure on their opponent with smothering defense that caused numerous turnovers. It was not until 9:32 left in the second period that Rockford finally got to the back of the net. After a face-off win in the Manistee zone, Nate Hill drove it home, and getting the assist on the play was Justin Ullrey. The lead proved to be short lived. About a minute later, off a turnover in the Rockford zone, a Manistee forward had no one between him and the Rockford goaltender, Jake Rekucki. One quick fake and a shot over the shoulder, and the game was tied again.
Rockford continued their aggressive play, fighting through a penalty-filled second period when it was their turn on the power play. In the final seconds of a Rockford power play, Hill again put a goal up on the board by slamming home a rebound off a shot from the point by Erik Datema. The score at the end of two periods was Rockford 2, Manistee 1.
The third period found the Rams looking to keep the pressure on the Chippewas, but being smart about protecting their one-goal lead. The strategy worked, but midway through the third period, Rockford was called for a controversial five-minute major penalty that put them a man down for what seemed like an eternity while trying to protect their one-goal lead.
The Rams successfully killed off the penalty, which carried them into the final couple minutes of the game, still clinging to the one-goal lead.
Manistee tried to gain possession of the puck and get it into the Rockford zone so that they could pull their goalie, but Rockford continued to pressure the puck in the Manistee end. Then, with just 26 seconds left in the game, Cam Bathum fired a slap shot that got past the Manistee goalie to seal the victory. Todd Millar, who came on in relief halfway through the game, got the win in net, playing solid when called upon.
The Rams’ next game is at home against Muskegon Catholic Central, who they tied in an earlier season game in Muskegon. Game time is 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at Walker Ice and Fitness.