Hockey finishes season 15-1 to overcome slow start

Matthew Mahoney

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Senior Cole Beaufait, junior Mason Kelly, and senior Ryan Jeffreys led the FHC hockey team offensively all year long, but it took some time for them to settle in. After losing three of the first four games of the season to the likes of Byron Center, Allen Park, and Jenison, the trio of All-State honorees combined for an astounding 59 goals and 71 assists in the remaining 21 games of the season.

“Mason, Ryan, and Cole compete for every puck and win a lot of 50/50 battles, while also seeing the ice very well and being very patient in the offensive zone,” said head coach Kevin Zaschack when asked on the importance of his leaders. “Their patience gets opponents running around and out of system, and they certainly lead our team offensively.”

However, it did take some time for this offensive production to pick up. On the first weekend of the season, the Rangers fell to eventual Division 1 Regional Champion Byron Center, followed by another loss the next day to Allen Park. With a roster filled with returners from the previous year and major-impact additions, this is not the start the Rangers envisioned. 

The next game saw a major turning point in the season. After losing the two first games of the season, the Rangers could have collapsed and kept their heads down against arch-rival East Grand Rapids. This year’s team was full of resiliency, though, and that’s the last thing they were going to do.

After going down 3-1 in the second period, FHC scored four unanswered goals to defeat the Pioneers. Mason scored two goals on the evening, including the game-tying goal. Ryan was the one to break the ice, however, putting the Rangers up 4-3 before an empty-netter secured the 5-3 win late in the third period. 

While the Rangers did fall at the hands of Jenison the next day, the momentum from the EGR win carried over easily. Over the next six games, the Rangers showed their offensive prowess, scoring five or more goals in each win. In the 7-3 win over St. Frances Cabrini, FHC showed its depth as 12 different players recorded an assist against the Monarchs. The same was the case in the next game against East Kentwood in which six different guys scored en route to an 8-0 win over the Falcons. 

Contrary to the previous games, in the following game against Lowell/Caledonia, most of the scoring came from a single source. Mason scored five of the team’s seven goals in a 7-1 win, and after starting the season 1-3, the Rangers suddenly sat at a 5-3 record.

“To have such a goal scorer [like Mason] on the tea is always a relief, especially in close games when you can put them on the ice and trust they’re going to get the job done,” freshman Sammy Mielock said. “I think with our whole first line and part of our second line leaving next  year, it’s going to be hard to match their points in the next few years.”

The next weekend, the Rangers traveled back out to the east side of the state for games against Birmingham Unified and Northville. The Rangers utterly dominated against Birmingham in the first game of the weekend on both sides of the ice. Junior Gavin Brady remained strong in between the pipes, making 22 saves on the night en route to a shutout. His offensive counterparts took care of their job as the Rangers went on to win 5-0 thanks to five points from Mason and three from Cole. 

The next day, the story was much different. For the entirety of the contest, the game was close, with the Rangers lead never exceeding two goals. This was a bit of a gut-check for FHC as the previous five games were won by four or more goals, but the Rangers showed their resiliency against Northville. In the first period alone, seven goals were scored between the two teams. The Rangers led 4-3 after the first 17 minutes of play, and Mason already had a hat trick. Junior Xavier Ott—a key offensive component all season—added two goals, and FHC came home with a 7-3 record after the 6-4 win.   

With a six-game win streak in hand, the Rangers focus turned back to conference play against inter-district rival Forest Hills Northern/Eastern. Throughout the entirety, the Rangers dominated the number of chances offensively with 35 shots on goal compared to FHNE’s 13. Xavier and Sammy both scored to give FHC a 2-1 lead in the second period. The emergence of Sammy’s offensive production was immense as a freshman, setting him up for a bright career at FHC.

“Him having such a great first season was very important,” Mason said. “He was a great teammate, and he will continue to do great things for the team for years to come.”

Unfortunately for the Rangers, the chances came scarcely in the third period. FHC had just nine shots to close things out, and the boys were unable to capitalize. As FHC held on to the lead, the Bird-Dogs of FHNE tied things up with six minutes to go. Then, just a minute later, FHNE scored again, securing the 3-2 win in a heartbreaking loss for FHC. 

From here on out, the Rangers won 15 consecutive games, including a revenge win over FHNE later in the season. While the loss hurt at the time, it likely fueled an amazing close to the season for FHC.

“Losing to them early in the season really woke the entire team up to realize that we needed to work harder to show everyone that we were the best team in West Michigan,” Cole said.

Immediately following the loss, the Rangers pulled off wins against some of the top teams in West Michigan in Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Big Rapids, and East Grand Rapids. In the first game against GRCC, sophomore Tyler Weaver, Sammy, and Cole each scored in a game that saw the Rangers dominate both ends of the ice. Gavin made 18 saves on 19 shots, and the Rangers won 3-1.

In back to back days, the FHC goalies put on impressive performances. The next day against Big Rapids, sophomore Jake Munger recorded 23 saves in a 4-3 overtime win. Throughout the season, both goalies showed success and their potential for next year as non-seniors. 

“Both goalies played well with Gavin emerging as the number one goalie this year,” Zaschak said. “Gavin was 15-4 and Jake was 7-1, with both having won us big games.”

Off the back of two huge wins, the Rangers played East Grand Rapids for the second time this year. Senior Peter Bardelli scored two goals after the Rangers trailed to tie the game at two apiece, and the boys were in a good spot heading into the third period. Late in the game—facing a five-on-three disadvantage due to two late penalties—the Rangers were facing immense pressure. As the Pioneers neared the net, Ryan intercepted a pass with a running start, taking the puck the length of the rink and beating the EGR goalie to his right with four seconds remaining, giving FHC a miraculous 3-2 win.

“Just to be able to do that for the team with us being two guys down felt great,” Ryan said. “With so much adrenaline in the moment, I didn’t really even know what was going on.”

After a 9-1 win over East Kentwood in which eight different Rangers scored, FHC moved on to take on FHNE three days later. Cole scored two goals and assisted one, and the Rangers took down the Bird-Dogs 3-1. While Cole’s performance was impressive, the story of the game—and much of the season—was defense.

“A big part of our success was our overall team defense,” Zaschak said. “We gave up less than two goals a game all season.”

Following the loss to FHNE, over the next 14 games of the regular season, all but three games saw the Rangers give up two goals or less. Senior Hayden Sarjeant led the charge defensively all year as one of the team captains, and he had an impressive defensive roster around him. Sophomores Lucas Jeffreys, Connor DeFouw and Josh Smith, juniors Collin Ward and Jack Fitzgibbon, and senior Grant Cardin all played a huge role in elite FHC defense, and all but two of the defensemen will be returning next year.

Before taking on Grandville—who at the time was ranked fourth in Division 1—the Rangers played Mona Shores and Grand Rapids Christian. FHC easily defeated the Sailors 5-2, but the game against GRC was a bit more difficult. After falling 1-0 early, Mason had yet another hat trick to propel FHC to a 6-3 win.

Against Grandville, both teams’ goalie played very well. For FHC, Gavin made 29 saves on 30 shots, while Grandville’s Kaden Fisher made 35 saves on 37 shots. In overtime with the score tied 1-1, two Grandville defensemen rushed toward Cole, and he found Mason for the game-winner.

Then, the Rangers traveled to the east side of the state again for the MIHL showcase, playing against some of the best teams in the state. Flint Powers is consistently one of the best teams in Division 3, and at the time, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was ranked sixth in Division 1.

The All-State trio of Mason, Ryan, and Cole combined for ten points throughout this weekend in a 5-1 win over Flint Powers and a 3-2 victory against OLSM. Playing the Chargers of Flint Powers, Mason recorded another hat trick. The next day against the Eaglets, Cole scored twice and Ryan scored once, giving the Rangers two huge wins for momentum and recognition in the state. 

With the game against GRC scheduled for the next day already announced as a forfeit for the Eagles, the Rangers took to the ice to play Lowell/Caledonia, with a win giving FHC the outright conference championship. Mason scored four goals and Cole assisted three times, giving FHC a 7-2 win that secured the OK Baum conference championship.

“Winning a conference championship felt amazing,” Cole said. “It is our first conference championship in three years, and we put in a lot of work to win it.”

To close out the regular season, FHC defeated Hudsonville on Senior Night and then beat Rockford 6-5. Cole simply dominated the regular-season finale against Rockford as he was involved in each goal, scoring three goals and assisting the other three. Ryan also had an impressive performance, dishing out four assists to teammates on the night. 

On Senior Night, the boys gave themselves a proper send-off. Cole had three assists, and the Rangers easily took down the Eagles 4-2. This senior class has meant so much to the program, and it was important for them to win in their last game at Patterson.

“We rely on the seniors a lot each year with a team goal of sending the seniors off with a successful year,” Zaschak said. “This year’s seniors Cole Munger, Grant Cardin, Cole Beaufait, Ryan Jeffreys, Hayden Sarjeant, Peter Bardelli, and Johnny Mielock meant a lot to this program both on and off the ice.”

After finishing the regular season on a 14-game win streak, the Rangers had high hopes heading into the postseason.

“We had high expectations for the postseason, but our goal was just to win the first game and then build momentum for the second,” Mason said.

The Rangers received a bye in the first round of the Regional playoffs, playing the winner of Jackson Lumen Christi and EGR. The 23-3 Titans defeated EGR, and they put up a massive fight against FHC in the Regional semifinals. Tyler scored to initially give the Rangers the lead, and after the Titans equalized, Cole Munger regained the lead. Then, late in the second period, Sammy scored his sixth goal of the season to give FHC a 3-2 lead. FHC held onto the lead in the third, with Gavin making 22 saves on the night to send the Rangers to the Regional Final.

Taking on Grand Rapids Catholic Central—a team the Rangers beat 3-1 earlier in the season—the Rangers struggled. Gavin did his best to keep the Rangers in the contest, making save after save in the first period to keep the score tied 0-0. The Cougars visibly outmatched FHC on the offensive end throughout the next two periods, scoring five unanswered goals for a 5-0 win, ending FHC’s season.  

What will be remembered, however, is this team’s run, not the ending. The Rangers finished the regular season ranked in the top ten in the state, won the OK Baum conference, finished 22-5, and received All-State honors for five different players: Mason, Cole, Ryan, Gavin, and Hayden. While three of these guys will not be returning next year, Zaschak is optimistic for the future of this program.

“There are a solid core group of players coming back, and hopefully more players will want to play for their high school in front of their peers and community,” Zaschak said. “High school hockey competes with travel hockey with the hopes of all players playing high school at some point.”