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Fleming likes the first half his Berkley Unified team has put together

January 15, 2014

» click to enlarge «
Berkley’s Max Dooley (28) battles for the puck with a Bloomfield Hills player. The Bears — 10-2-1 at press time — are in their first season in the OAA Red.

BERKLEY — Moving up a division and working some new players into the mix, Jeff Fleming did his best to temper expectations before the 2013-14 hockey season began.

But with the “14” part of that schedule now in full swing, the Berkley Unified coach can’t help but take a step back and enjoy what his guys have done so far.

Even if it’s for a brief moment.

“You’re only as good as your next game,” he said with a laugh. “And we’ve got some big games against some good teams coming up. … But you have to like where we are right now. I don’t say things before the season just to say them. We came in and had to do some nice things to get where we are, and our guys have done that.”

At press time, the Bears were 10-2-1 overall. Though they are still rookies in the Oakland Activities Association Red Division, they were 1-1-1.

“We did have a lot of returning players, and those guys have been playing together for a long time now,” Fleming said, explaining the impressive record. “That pays off. Whether it’s youth hockey or in our system, or whatever, they’ve kind of grown up together. Then you factor in the way (goaltender) Stephen (Wroe) is playing, and we have a chance to win just about every game we play.”

Wroe has been spectacular yet again, posting a 9-2-1 record with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and four shutouts.

Veterans like Ian Melrose, who leads the team with 12 goals and 10 assists, Max Dooley (nine goals, seven assists) and Robby Flannery (three goals, 12 assists), to name a few, have paced the offense.

The depth is also evident in the fact that eight different players have scored a game-winning goal, with Melrose and Dooley each netting two.

“It’s been a matter of playing full games,” senior Zach Segall said. “We’ve been in some tough games and found ways to win. (Wroe) has kept us in every game, and I think the experience we have is a huge factor. We have guys that have been through it all.”

Still, if winning records of years past have taught the Bears anything, it’s not to rest on their laurels just yet.

“We’re coming into the meat of our schedule,” Fleming said. “We’re not going to have a night off the rest of the way, and you like that.”

Riding a five-game winning streak, Berkley hasn’t played since Jan. 6.

The storm of last week, along with commitments at the Berkley Ice Arena, also wiped out consecutive days of practice for the team.

The Bears finally get back to game mode Jan. 17 in an 8:30 p.m. tilt with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (8-5-0) at the Rochester Onyx.

They’ll face a struggling Canton High team on Jan. 22, before taking on Farmington High (10-3-0) and Rochester United (11-2-0) heading into the MAC-OAA Showcase on Feb. 1.

“This next stretch is really going to show us where we are,” Segall said. “We’ve hung with some good team so far, but to test ourselves against these teams coming up is going to be key.”

Facing each team in the Red just one time, and the Bears’ 1-1-1 record, makes it seemingly impossible to climb to the top of the standings.

But before the season, Fleming said a main goal in the Red was to contend.

“We’re always trying to improve,” he said. “I think we’ve shown we belong with some of these teams.”

Which should do wonders for the squad, come playoff time, which, of course, is the other main goal.

“The next two weeks, I think is going to be a huge help,” Segall said of the postseason. “We hope to move beyond districts this year, and to see these teams and see this speed, it’s going to give us something to build on.”

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