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By Dan Hardenbrook

Players and coaches within the Tahquamenon Area Youth Hockey Association have raced to action. In the first full weekend of hockey in Michigan, four different age groups competed in games all across the Upper Peninsula.

The 10U Renze Powersports Squirts, coached by Ben Rahilly and Mike Maki, had to wait an extra day before they could take the ice back inside the Barn in downtown Newberry. The winter weather that moved through the central U.P. this weekend caused Escanaba’s 10U team to cancel their Saturday trip to Newberry, missing two scheduled games.

Not wanting to miss out on the excitement of opening day, Newberry’s kids took the ice in a friendly scrimmage against their own coaches and parents.

After Saturday’s fun, the team was back to business on Sunday. Facing off against Manistique, the Renze Squirts brought their offense with them, scoring more than 30 goals in two games.

The Oswald’s Bear Ranch Pee-Wees also played their first games of the season, starting Friday night in a doubleheader at the Little Bear West Arena in Manistique. They faced a tough IQ Designs 12U team and lost both games. The first game was a rough start to the season as the Bears fell 8-0. They bounced back and showed great improvement in game number two, falling 3-1.

Gram Taylor had a breakaway goal for the Oswald’s group, which is coached by Kevin Schroeder, George Sevarns, and Erin McNamara. Even after a couple of tough losses, the coaches were pleased with the progress.

“We’ve only had four or five practices and it shows,” Schroeder said. “First game we were nervous and a little bit out of shape, but we’ll get there. You can see the potential.”

Sevarns added, “The kids are getting their legs under them, and it was the first game with masks, so there were a lot of adjustments. We have some young players. Only four of these kids are second year pee-wees and they didn’t get much playing time last year. We’ll keep working and getting better.”

As Newberry and Manistique’s younger groups faced off, the 14U and 18U groups faced teams at the top two levels. The 14U State Savings Bank squad once again brings together players from Newberry, Manistique, and Munising. Multiple members of the team won a MAHA State title two years ago at the pee-wee level, and some also made the State Tournament last year as first-year bantams.

That talent and experience has paid off: The SSB 14U team is off to a 5-1 start to the season. Following a pair of wins in Marinette last weekend, they went to Iron Mountain, where they split a pair of games on Saturday.

On Sunday, the team swept past the Marquette Junior Wildcats in the Lakeview Arena.

Sunday featured a dominating sweep of the Marquette Junior Wildcats at Lakeview Arena to run their weekend record to 5-1. Gavin Nutkins, Matthew Luebkert, and Ethan Pavey all put points on the board in the wins. State Savings Bank is coached by John Nutkins (Newberry), Pat Gariepy (Munising), and Steve Hinkson (Manistique).

The green and black attack is back! This time as an all-star caliber team at the 18U level. French Trucking Hockey has been banner worthy the last two years at the bantam 14U level, and now some of those players are continuing the tradition at the 18U level.

Coached by Rob Skeans and JR Miller, they too feature former state champions all over the ice. Another combined group between Newberry and Munising could create another championship-caliber team. But there is work to be done. A pair of games this weekend resulted in two tough losses for French Trucking.

Coaches are confident the pieces will fall into place. “We were a little out of shape and not very well conditioned,” said Skeans. “It was tough but I think we can take these guys later in the season.”

They get time to fine tune some areas, as their next games aren’t until the final weekend of the month.