BERKLEY — The emotional tug-of-war was unlike anything he’s ever known before.
A season unlike any other had ended in as heartbreaking a fashion as any other.
“I’m still not sleeping,” Berkley Unified hockey coach Jeff Fleming said with a laugh two days after the year came to a close in a 3-2 loss to Hartland High in a Division 2 quarterfinal game at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.
Just days after winning the program’s first regional title, Berkley entered the March 4 game a considerable underdog against a Hartland team that had played in the state final in 2013 and was expected to return this winter.
But the Bears were hardly intimidated, scoring first in the game for a 1-0 advantage.
After Hartland tied it in the second period, Berkley seemingly had the upset in hand when the Bears found the back of the net with just 2:04 remaining in regulation.
Then, disaster struck.
Hartland tied the game at 2-2 with 1:29 to play, and then eliminated Berkley with a goal just 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It’s a painful loss,” Fleming said. “To be so close and work so hard and not be rewarded is tough. Our hats are off to Hartland. That’s an experienced team that kept their composure.”
As difficult as it was to see things end, Fleming and his guys stayed focused on the big picture.
The Bears finished the winter with a 20-7-2 record, moved to the Oakland Activities Association Red Division where they placed third — three points from first — and then had the most playoff success the program has ever known.
“This group of senior leaders, and this group of players, truly bonded as a team and achieved more than any that’s come before them,” Fleming boasted. “I truly couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
Six seniors on the current roster had been with the team for three years or more.
As a whole, Berkley has won 61 games the past three seasons.
“We moved to the Red Division. We played a more difficult schedule, which prepared us for the playoffs,” he continued. “We won our first regional title ever. It was a great season. We were one of eight teams still playing in Division 2. That’s pretty special.”
Some key guys are set to depart, especially senior goalie Stephen Wroe.
So can this sort of success be sustained?
“Absolutely,” Fleming said. “There will be a turnover with our team and the rest of the teams in the league. We’ve got some guys we have to replace, but that’s what you have to do every year, isn’t it?”