Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No quit in Machine as season nears end

Courtesy NAHL

Despite having its playoff hopes already dashed, the Motor City Machine hasn’t turned off the engines, posting a 4-2 mark in its last six games, including two more victories last weekend.

“The difference lately is that we’ve found ways to win games,” said Machine head coach Sean Clark, whose team improved to 10-35-1 on the season. “When a team struggles so early like we did, you have to learn how to win games.”

After opening the week with a 3-1 loss to Mahoning Valley on Thursday, the Machine rebounded the next night with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Phantoms. Defenseman Alec Thieda recorded two assists in the win and goaltender Joe Moore turned aside 23 shots in regulation and overtime and three of four in the shootout.

On Sunday, Army recruit Jon Bobb connected for the game-winning goal and an assist as Motor City downed the Alpena IceDiggers, 5-4. Jared Williams (goal, assist) and Nate Taurence (two assists) also fashioned two-point nights and Moore made 47 saves.

“Our guys talk about finding a way (to win) every night and recently we’ve found a way,” said Clark. “Our goal over the last 12 games doesn't change. We want to get better everyday we come to the rink.”

Leadership from the team’s veterans, among them Nick Taurence, Trevor John and Bennett Schneider (pictured), has helped keep the Machine on track.

“They haven't let our focus slip,” said Clark. “They've kept our younger players honest during practice and are leading by example on the ice with strong, hard play and discipline.”

And Moore has been a savior between the pipes.

The 20-year-old from Canton, who began the season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, has now won his last four starts, helping jumpstart the struggling Machine.

“I'm just happy to see him rewarded for his hard work,” Clark said. “Joe's success can be directly linked to his ability to compete on every shot, every rebound and every scoring chance.”

Ryan Misiak, from Shelby Township, has been dubbed one of the team’s top young players on the offensive end. The 17-year-old NAHL Top Prospects Tournament participant is the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals and 29 points after 45 games.

“He has a ton of potential to play at the next level,” said Clark. “He’s very dynamic with the puck and is an offensive threat every time he touches it.

“The key is keeping Ryan directed; he’s a better player when he’s involved physically and willing to play tough in tough areas. When he does that, he’s one of the top prospects in our league.”

Record-wise not the kind of season the Machine anticipated since relocating from Southern Minnesota a year ago, the program is continuing to stress the positives as it heads into the home stretch.

“Our morale has been great,” said Clark. “We may have the closest group of young men in the league. Obviously, like everyone else, we want to win, but more importantly we want to be successful, and that’s achieved only by giving our best effort everyday. We're happy with what we've done over the past six games, but we're not satisfied.”

Off the ice, the Machine has been well received around town. And with its inaugural season winding down, the team is looking forward to growing its existing relationships while developing new ones.

“It’s been great. The people have been very supportive,” said Clark. “We have a great facility (Yack Arena in Wyandotte) located in a very tightly-knit community.”

Looking ahead, Clark and his staff are focused on getting the team’s prospective players signed to tenders, as well as preparing for May’s NAHL Entry Draft. Above all, though, a formidable close to the season might make all the difference.

“A strong finish should promote our older players and prepare our younger players for next season,” said Clark. “We want to build winning habits to build upon for next season. We have a strong nucleus of players returning and feel that we can compete for the division championship next season.”

Which has created an appealing environment for prospective players to consider as they map out their futures this spring.

“Our first goal as a staff is to develop hockey players,” said Clark. “We demand a lot and it starts with effort and intelligence. We want our players to build the proper habits to be successful at the next level.”

Speaking of which, the Machine has two players already committed to NCAA programs for next season, with Bobb off to West Point and John headed to Tufts University. With continued success through the final five weeks of the season, Clark believes that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We have a handful of players that have drawn interest from schools,” he said. “Hopefully, by winning some games, we can turn some heads and draw more interest. We have some very good hockey players who are outstanding young men and who can play and be effective at the college level.”

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

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