Motor City Finds Winning Early in the Season is Better for the Heart
Team Starts the 2018-19 USPHL Premier Season at 4-1
What a difference a year makes. After a crazy frenetic goal by the Motor City Hockey Club’s Kyle Banks with 11 seconds left gave his squad a 2-1 win and the weekend series Sunday over the Midwest Blackbirds, the team finds itself with four wins out of the gate in its first five contests. “Yep, 4-1 is a lot better than 1-10,” was the obvious response from Motor City Hockey Club Head Coach Jason McCrimmon comparing the 2018-19 USPHL start by his squad compared to last year’s early season woes.
Motor City found itself facing last year’s USPHL Midwest East Division Champion Chicago Cougars and an unknown but very talented Midwest Blackbirds squad in the first five games of its season – all at home in their new Troy (MI) Sports Center confines – and relied on clutch goals and some greatly improved goaltending to come out of the gate in a much different fashion than its inaugural USPHL Premier season in 2017-18. Motor City swept the Cougars, 4-1 and 2-0 and then won two of three against the Blackbirds this past weekend.
“Last year we had talent but the parts weren’t jelling,” said Motor City General Manager Mark Gilman. “We had a ton of injuries from the first game on and never really seemed to hit our stride until January. Winning one of our first 11 games was a brutal way to start the season. It was in all honesty, hard to watch because I knew we were better than that. It literally was making me physically sick.” Motor City righted the ship after the first half last season and finished winning 17 of its last 18 and clinched a spot in the USPHL Premier finals in Massachusetts beating the Detroit Fighting Irish in the playoffs.
This season, Motor City knew it had to improve in two areas – goaltending and defense. So far, mission accomplished. The team has allowed only seven goals in its first five games and rookie goalie Brenden Gutekunst has allowed only 2 in his first three Junior hockey games (0.67 gaa and .097 save percentage) and picked up UPSHL Midwest Goalie of the Week honors in his first weekend with Motor City.
“We’re certainly stronger on the back end than we’ve ever been,” said McCrimmon. “The addition of Gutekunst and the return of Nate Norkevicus gives us a great one-two punch in net and a healthy Brian McClure and the production of Alec Porzondek on defense has certainly given us some veteran stability.” McClure, now in his third season with Motor City was hampered for most of the 2017-18 season with concussion issues. Porzondek, who was the anchor on defense last season has started the season strong, providing some much needed blue line muscle with three goals and five assists in two weekends of play.
In addition to his heart stopping last second goal on Sunday, Banks in his second year with the club and one of the team’s leading scorers last season, is also contributing early with four goals and five assists. Noah McNutt has also been a standout in his second season with Motor City, adding his usual scoring prowess but this year becoming more of a playmaker with five assists early, including his beautiful feed to Banks for the Sunday game winner.
“I really think we’re more balanced this season,” said Gilman. “We have a bigger and more versatile team this season with at least four guys who can play on defense or at forward when needed. That gives us a tremendous luxury in shaping lineups to our competition.” One of those swing players has been veteran Evan Tarnopol who has played on both ends of the ice so far this year and has two goals and an assist in the early going.
Motor City is back on the ice again Saturday night in Troy to begin another chapter in one of the best rivalries in the USPHL, taking on the Fighting Irish, a team they’ve been dueling since the 2014-15 season when the teams were in the former Midwest Junior Hockey League.