A season of firsts: Local team completes record year

GAYLORD – It was a season of firsts for the Escanaba Eskymos hockey team. Though it ended sooner than they wanted it to, the memory of the 2012-13 season will not easily be forgotten.

The hockey team lost 2-1 to Saginaw Heritage in the regional final held Saturday in Gaylord.

Escanaba compiled the best single season record in school history, finishing 24-4 and eclipsing the previous single season mark of 20-6-1 set in 2009-10. The Eskymos won multiple games by the 8-goal mercy rule, displaying an unrelentless attacking offense led by the line of Jake Eastin, Nick Vandermissen and Levi Wunder, the most prolific single-season goal scoring line in school history.

Wunder, a sophomore, shattered the single-season points record with just under a month to go in the season and finished with 53 goals, 38 assists and 91 total points.

This season marked the first time the Eskymos swept the Marquette Redmen in the series’ long history. They won three games against their rival, by scores of 7-5, 3-1 and most recently 8-0 in the regional semifinal at Lakeview Arena last Thursday.

Goaltender Nick LeMire compiled the most victories in net in a single season with 19, more than answering any lingering questions about how he would perform filling in for the graduated Austin Young.

At the prestigious Michigan Public School Showcase in Chelsea, Mich., the Esykmos put together three victories over three state-ranked teams in three days time. Something never previously accomplished by an Escanaba hockey team. The Eskymos finished the season ranked No. 2 in the state by the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association. It was the highest the Eskymo hockey program has ever been ranked.

Though seniors like Eastin, Ben Lasecki and Vandermissen will depart, their efforts may have a lasting impact, helping to spark interest in a program thirsting for positive energy.

“Everything the seniors have done all year, the great leadership, the effort all the time, they’ve just been a fun group to coach,” said head coach Tim McCarthy. “I can’t say enough about it, the whole team was a joy. We spent so much time together as a family and everybody fed off each other. We got along so well.”

McCarthy said after the season-ending defeat Saturday afternoon, he reminded his team of all they had accomplished during the season.

“We did talk about it. We are leaving this complex with a sour taste. We expected more, we wanted more and we fell short, but everything we’ve done this year has been phenomenal,” he said. “This group of kids here have done so much throughout the year and accomplished so much, we didn’t want to see it end.

“They’re proud to be Eskymos, they’re proud of their team and they’re proud of Escanaba. It’s a good feeling. You could see the emotion. It’s difficult. It’s always tough to lose but it’s a little tough to lose where we were at.”