BBZZZZZ! The buzzer goes off, ending the third period, the regional game, and the end of the 2015-16 West Ottawa Panthers ice hockey season. Grandville and WO make their way into their respective locker rooms. The reactions inside the locker rooms are very different. Grandville talks excitedly about the next round of the playoffs, but in WO’s locker room there is no talk of the next round. In fact, there is no talk, only silence. Soph. Mike Walsh looks around at the seniors, their last game on this team. More silence. Head Coach walks in on the eerie quiet scene, every footstep sounding like the beat of a drum, there are no words. The only words to say about the season are: “there’s always next year.”
With the 2016-17 regular season coming to a close, West Ottawa’s hockey team is looking to make a run at the postseason once again and has their sights set on more than just a single postseason win. “This year we have expectations and goals. To win conference, which we put ourselves in a great spot to do that and also win regionals. We’re going to surprise a lot of people in the next couple weeks here,” Captain of the team Sr. Zack Neitzel said. Hockey playoffs are coming up making it intriguing to see what could be up ahead for WO’s potential-filled team.
Currently, WO sits in 5th place of the OK Conference with a conference record of 3-5-1 and overall record of 14-8-1. Compared to last year’s overall record of 14-10-3 and conference record of 3-7-2, they look to be a better team than last year. The defense and goaltender Sr. Jarod Klavon have helped keep the games low scoring. Klavon’s save percentage is an impressive .909%, compared to his .844% of last year. The team has allowed only 26 goals in 23 games making them a defensive power. On the offensive side, Jr. Ben Burns leads the team in points with 39, Jr. Mike Walsh following behind with 34 points.
WO is scheduled to play Byron Center on the 28th of February at the Georgetown Ice Arena for their first postseason game. This marks the first year that BC has had a hockey team. Previously, BC had always combined to play with Grandville. However, this year they split, forcing players who have played together for years to play against each other. BC ranks first in the third tier of the OK Conference with their goaltender widely considered the best in the state. However, besides for their goaltender, they don’t have a lot to show for. WO has not played them yet this year, but Head Coach Nick Biondo feels prepared for them. “We’re a better team. They’re very beatable, but it isn’t going to be a cake walk,” Biondo said. WO has a good chance to advance with a win and would look to move on to the next round.
Hypothetically, if WO were to beat BC they would move on to play an opponent who WO has “had their number the past couple of years,” Biondo said. That opponent is Hudsonville. Hudsonville ranks fifth in the third tier of the OK Conference behind BC. Based on that statistic alone, Hudsonville should be an easier game to play for the Panthers than BC. As with any game, the preparation will not be taken any differently and WO will be looking to win as heftily as they can. “You can’t take any game lightly, and we can’t sleep on them but it should be a good high scoring game for us Panthers,” Jr. Takoda Denhof said. The game would be played on either March 3rd or 4th depending on scheduling times.
If WO gets through the Hudsonville game, they will look to play Grandville, the team that beat them last year in the regional game in a 5-1 ousting. Grandville currently holds a 12-8-0 record and sits fifth in the OK Conference’s first tier. Their record has slid a little since last year’s bruiser of 22-6-1 but they are still a very qualified team to be playing in the regional final. Grandville has made it out of regionals the past three years and looks to do so again. “WO hasn’t beaten them in a couple years and we have met them in the playoffs the past couple of years so it will be an interesting game for us. It’s been our goal since the beginning of the season to get to that point so it will be a good game,” Denhof said. Grandville is the big game that looms over WO’s players as the playoffs approach. On March 4th, WO will play Grandville if all goes well.
Come out and support the WO Panthers when they open the postseason by playing Byron Center on Tuesday, February 28th at 7:30pm at the Georgetown Ice Arena.