TAYLOR, Mich. -- Pat Peake, coach for the HoneyBaked 16-and-Under youth squad, remembers the date as if it was yesterday.
“It was April 26, 1996, Game 5 of the NHL playoffs,” recalls Peake, who at 23 was in the early stages of what was thought to be a long and wonderful career as a pro hockey player. “I was in a race for icing when I was hit and went foot first into the boards.”
One play and one hit changed his life forever, and after 12 operations and a career that lasted parts of four years living out a dream with the Washington Capitals, his hockey playing days were over.
“After the final operation the doctor came in and said, ‘You’re done playing hockey.’ It was just a surreal feeling,” said Peake, who broke Wayne Gretzky’s record as a junior by scoring the fastest 50 goals in a season with the Detroit Junior Red Wings in 1992-93. “At that time I was wondering, ‘What am I going to do now, and what am I good at? All I have ever done since the age of 6 was play hockey.’ I tried to find a positive. Thankfully it was my foot and not something more serious. I could still lead a normal life with my family.”
Soon after, Peake joined the coaching staff of the Plymouth Whalers and spent two seasons as an assistant before moving on to become a sports agent. From there he went back to coaching, this time as a head coach in youth hockey, where he has carved out a successful career. Currently he is in the midst of a very special season with a powerhouse HoneyBaked team that has compiled a 65-5 record.
“I enjoy teaching the kids and I just love when you have players that have a purpose in that they all have a burning desire to succeed,” Peake said. “After having my career cut short, it gives me a chance to give back to the kids an opportunity to play hockey and live out their dreams playing in the NHL.”
This weekend, HoneyBaked punched a ticket to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships next month with a win at the Michigan state tournament. It was the continuation of an already strong season.
This past November, HoneyBaked got a chance to play in the prestigious Silver Stick Tournament in Toronto that featured the top teams from the 1999 birth year. Despite icing a team with a short bench, HoneyBaked won the tournament in dominant fashion.
“We have a good group of young men, and they respect the game as well as each other,” said Peake, who had the honor of watching his OHL jersey raised to the rafters of the Compuware Arena with his former Major Junior organization, now known as the Plymouth Whalers. “We have had a good run and hope to cap it of with a state and national title.”
HoneyBaked has the luxury of having two excellent goaltenders in Alex Roye and Dylan St. Cyr, son of Olympic silver medalist goaltender Manon Rheaume of Canada. Rheaume was the first and only woman to play in the NHL, appearing in a pair of exhibition games in 1992 and 1993 with the Tampa Bay Lighting.
In his ninth season as a head coach Peake is delighted to still be in the game he loves.
“Regardless of how good you are it all goes back to the saying,” Peake said. “That it is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Oakland Jr. Grizzlies peaking at the right time
It’s been a long hard grind for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 18U team. They have had to overcome injuries, injuries and more injuries.
“It’s been a season of up’s and downs that’s for sure,” coach Dan Riedel said. “We have not iced a full team all year, and that continues to be the case as we begin play this week in the state tournament.”
Prior to the start, the Grizzlies lost their starting center Ronald Cochran to an off-ice injury. They will be shorthanded even more as their top left winger Jimmy Harten suffered a knee injury in the early goings of the state tournament.
“With the injuries we have had plenty of cold streaks, but we have been able to overcome them with some hot streaks as well,” Riedel explained. “We seem to be getting hot once again at the most important time of the year.”
The Grizzlies won two of their three round-robin games to move into the semifinals this weekend at the SportsPlex in Taylor, Mich. They beat the Michigan Ice Hawks 2-0 in the A finals.
“We have some guys that can score, and our goaltending as been solid all year,” said Riedel, who played NCAA Division I Hockey for the Ferris State Bulldogs. “One of the strong points with this group of guys has been the ability to rise up at the right time.”
A well-balanced machine
The Michigan state tournament generally features teams that match up well against each other. The HoneyBaked 14U AAA minor team might be an exception.
Check out these stats: Three games, three wins. Three games, three shutouts. They have outscored the opposition 17-0 and, in their final round-robin tilt, HoneyBaked held the Michigan Nationals to three shots on net for the entire contest. Honeybaked then beat Compuware 4-1 in the finals to move on to the national championships.
Coach Trevor Edwards said his group of athletes is driven for success.
“It all starts in the way you practice, and the players here all work hard with the idea of getting better and better as the season moves on,” said Edwards, in his fifth year as coach at the 14U level. “We had a good start to the tournament and actually we are in the midst of four consecutive shutouts if you count our final game before the state tournament began.”
It’s not just the goaltenders Jayme Fadden or Brian George, but the whole team that contributes.
“Up front we have a pretty balanced group of forwards and we consistently run three lines,” Edward explained. “They do a good job of coming back to help the defensemen and the rearguards do an excellent job of moving the puck forward. Every guy on our team loves to play in a competitive atmosphere and they all push one another.”
The core of the group has been together for the past four years and the team added seven new players at the start of the season.
“Early on in the season it took us a while to get acclimated to one another,” Edwards said. “But we knew we had a lot of talent and it would just be a matter of time and now they are peaking at the right time of the year.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.