When the Father Gabriel Richard/Greenhills varsity hockey team took the ice on Wednesday night at the Cube against Saline some in the crowd may have thought a bus got lost on the way to the arena.
But by the end of the game, EVERYONE in the crowd realized that small in numbers doesn’t always equate to small in results. And while the Irish fell 4-2 to Saline, they more then held their own in every way against the much bigger school.
The Irish, who played the Hornets with just 13 players, started out the season small in numbers (18 on the roster) and injuries along the way have slowly taken players off the ice. They also will skate on Saturday against another solid team, Divine Child, before taking on perennial-state powerhouse Chelsea in the first round of the state playoffs.
Having just 13 players in hockey is akin to playing with four players in basketball. Remember the famous line in Hoosiers when coach Norman Dale tells the referee, “my team is on the floor.”
READ FEATURE STORY on Senior captain Matthew Granzotto: https://weloveannarbor.com/2018/02/22/profile-father-gabriel-richards-granzotto-puts-baseball-on-ice-for-now/
Well, Anthony Lietz’s team is “on the ice” and they’ve not only competed but won a Catholic League title along the way. Small numbers. Big results. Bigger heart.
“It’s been a real story of David and Goliath,” says Lietz, in his first year coaching high school hockey after years of working with AAA hockey teams. “It’s much different than AAA and travel hockey. The players on our team here are quite diverse in talent level.”
Apparently, the Irish are luckier than the number 13 is unlucky. Or maybe, just maybe, luck has nothing to do with it. Lietz literally has only two lines – which has led to some interesting situations.
“I had a kid ask me the other day who is on the power play,” he says, “I looked around and said it’s easier to tell you who is not on the power play.”
The Irish’s biggest class is the freshman class with six players and they have just one senior, captain Matthew Granzotto.
“We play Divine Child on Saturday and I think they have more seniors on their team than we have total players,” Lietz says.
The Irish are 11-9-2 overall and finished 5-4 and in third place in the Metro League. But don’t let the overall record fool you. This team has played some huge schools and competed right to the end, falling in several one-goal games to state-ranked teams. Saline, for example, is 20-4-1 on the season and didn’t exactly crush FGR/Greenhills Wednesday night.
The Irish also won the Catholic League Division 2 title on Saturday with a 5-1 win over Allen Park Cabrini at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Yes, with just 13 players on the ice they skated off as Catholic League champs!
“Cabrini scored the first goal pretty quick and then we pretty much dominated from there,” Lietz says. “We scored three goals in the first period to take the lead. Our goalie (junior Riley Noble) played a great game.”
The Irish led the Monarchs 3-1 after one period and added goals in the second and third periods.
“I never like to lose if it’s because of a lack of effort,” Lietz says. “If we give it our all and play hard the whole game and lose, that’s fine. We haven’t lost many games because we didn’t show up.”
The Irish really excel at both ends of the ice.
They have a first-rate goalie in Noble, who has allowed just 48 goals in 17 games for a 3.02 goals-against average facing a very strong schedule. He has a .901 save percentage.
“Riley came in and made it known that the net and crease was going to be his,” said Lietz. “He’s been outstanding for us.”
At the other end of the ice, FGR/Greenhills have some big-time finishers led by junior Aidan Brewer who has 34 goals (tied for seventh in the state) along with 21 assists for a team-best 55 points. Senior captain Matthew Granzotto has 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points. And junior Vincent Vermeulen has 18 goals and six assists for 24 points. Quentin Marks and JT Hazard each have 14 points, Jack DiMarzo has 12 points and Noah Peters 10.
The Fighting Irish, who went 24-3 with a senior-dominated team last year, have only two lines – but they are good lines.
“They can compete with anyone on any given night,” Lietz says.
The hockey team features players from both Father Gabriel Richard and Greenhills high schools and the players all get along on and off the ice. They have used the small roster to their advantage, almost as a motivational tool and don’t mind the underdog role.
“They believe in something bigger,” Lietz says. “I told them at the start of the season that if they just want to show up and have fun I can coach them that way. But if they want to compete then we can do that, too. Our locker room is our locker room and it’s just for us. They quickly realized they have something very special here and no one can take that away from them.”
The FGR/Greenhills roster
1 Riley Noble Junior Goaltender Greenhills
2 Vincent Vermeulen Junior Forward Greenhills
4 Thacher Groe Freshman Defenseman Greenhills
7 Owen Marks Freshman Forward FGR
9 Aidan Brewer Junior Forward Greenhills Asst. Captain
11 Jack Dimarzo Junior Defenseman Greenhills Asst. Captain
12 Adam Pattee Freshman Forward FGR
14 Sean Babcock Sophomore Defenseman FGR
15 Alan Atkinsmith Sophomore Forward FGR
16 Ryan Koszycki Freshman Defenseman FGR
17 JT Hazard Freshman Forward FGR
19 Noah Peters Junior Forward FGR
21 Edwin “Eddie” Zishiri Freshman Forward Greenhills
25 Matthew Granzotto Senior Forward FGR Captain
27 Nolan Pavlack Sophomore Defenseman FGR
Top team photo by Michele Hazard