ESCANABA - If the Escanaba Eskymos hockey team is to be measured against their chief rival, they took a big step forward in head coach Tim McCarthy's first year leading the team in 2011-12.
"It was the highlight of the season last year," said McCarthy of the games against the Marquette Redmen. "our first game against them, we lost by two. The second game, we tied them, and then in the postseason, we beat them.
"What I really liked about our season, was that we did get better."
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
The 2012-13 Escanaba Eskymos varsity hockey team includes: front row, from left; Charlie Zuidema, Matthew Casey, Jeff Lyle, Jack Valentine, Nick LeMire, Levi Wunder, Derek Challier, Dominic Aos, middle row; TJ Myrick, Dan Ritter, Nick Vandermissen, assistant coach Bryce Groleau, assistant coach Matt Hughes, head coach Tim McCarthy, assistant coach John Hendrickson, Jake Eastin, Ben Lasecki, Calvin Pinar, back row; student manager Luke Anthony, Hunter Lamarch, Dylan Gauthier, Nick Aird, Brianna Belanger, Quintin McCarthy, Steve Wood, student manager Shelby Gregorie, student manager Jalyn Dagenais.
The victory was Escanaba's first in the storied series since 2005. Marquette owns a 83-15-4 record against the Eskymos.
McCarthy isn't satisfied with last year's playoff victory and says his team is hungry for more. They'll get that chance Tuesday when they open the season at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.
"We're starting out with a bang and looking forward to it, as always," said McCarthy. "It's funny because a lot of emphasis is put on the game, and it's your first game. We'll have some bugs to work out and Marquette already has a game under their belts against Hancock, a good team."
Nov. 27 - at Marquette
Dec. 5 - Sault Ste. Marie
Dec. 7-8 - at Bay Area Reps Tournament, Traverse City
Dec. 14-15 - Gil Versailles Tournament
Dec. 18 - Negaunee
Dec. 20 - at Waupun, Wis.
Dec. 28-29 - Dick Johnsen Tournament
Jan. 4-5 - at Painesdale Jeffers Tournament, Michigan Tech University
Jan. 8 - at Sault Ste. Marie
Jan. 12 - at Calumet
Jan. 15 - Marquette
Jan. 22 - at Kingsford
Jan. 26 - at Cheboygan
Jan. 29 - at Negaunee
Feb. 1 - Alpena
Feb. 2 - Alpena
Feb. 8-9 - at Michigan Public School Showcase, Chelsea
Feb. 15 - Calumet
Feb. 16 - Hancock
Feb. 21 - Kingsford
The Eskymos lost 12 seniors to graduation, including goaltender Austin Young, but they return three - and those three just happen to be the bulk of Escanaba's scoring.
"Our three returning seniors Jake (Eastin), Nick (Vandermissen) and Ben (Lasecki) led the team in scoring as juniors. There's a lot of talent in those three boys," McCarthy said.
Escanaba also has a formidable and talented junior class made up of eight players, including returnees Quintin McCarthy, Steve Wood, Derek Challier, TJ Myrick and Nick LeMire, who will take on goaltending duties.
"Steve Wood has been on the team since he was a freshman. He's a hard working kid who's out there all the time," said McCarthy.
"Nick LeMire is working hard and he knows what his job is this year. He doesn't have Austin Young but it doesn't matter. Nick sat in the wings for two years for this opportunity and he's eager to do it."
Backing up LeMire in net will be freshman Jack Valentine, one of seven freshmen who made the team.
"We had a really good tryout this year with 33 kids coming out," said McCarthy. "We battled a bit with the goalie position. I only had one goalie for two days before Jack came out on the third day.
"The bad part of the whole deal is that the kids that didn't make the team don't have anywhere to go. There's no jayvee team and the midget program is gone. Times are tough."
McCarthy added a fourth senior to the team in Brianna Belanger, who he said is drawing a lot of attention.
"Brianna has played girls hockey and I actually coached her in junior hockey for 4-5 years," said McCarthy. "She's a very good player. She doesn't have the strength, but she's a heads up player and she'll be good for our team."
Also standing out early is the team's lone sophomore, Levi Wunder.
"Levi is really coming on. He brings a lot of speed to the game and it seems like his ability to find the net is real good. He played for the Marquette Electricians last year and I see real good things out of him," McCarthy said.
The other three juniors are Dan Ritter, Dominic Aos and mutli-sport athlete Jeff Lyle.
"Dan is a big kid at six feet and 200 pounds with good hands and Dominic is about 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds soaking wet, but he has a lot of speed and determination,' McCarthy said. "Jeff is a real good athlete. He plays football, baseball and hockey and came on this year. You'll see him quite a bit and he'll do well."
The schedule is half formidable, half mystery. A few unknown teams await the Eskymos this season.
"There's a few teams this year that we haven't played before. We have Monroe, Wis. coming up to a tournament here, we have Tomahawk, Wis. and we go down to play Waupun, Wis.," he said. "I don't know much about any of those schools, but it's fun. You go down, you don't know each other and it's a great battle."
The Eskymos will also play in the prestigious Michigan Public School Showcase at Chelsea in February.
"It's a very good tournament," said McCarthy. "They don't tell you who you're going to play until mid-January. They do that because they want to match up all the teams evenly. The nice thing about it, is last year we played three Division-1 schools, some of the top schools in the state. We lost by one goal each game with one going to overtime."
But first things first. The Eskymos will find out what they've got Tuesday against the Redmen.
McCarthy said last year's postseason victory made waves throughout the program and renewed interest in the team. He wants to keep that going.
"The kids that are here, saw it last year. I think that's why I had so many try out. Last year, we only had 24 tryout. I think kids are excited and I think our program is going in the right direction. That win for Escanaba against Marquette at the end was big. That's what people talk about. I'm not satisfied with that though. We want to keep going," he said.
"We'll go out there Tuesday and give it everything we got. Marquette is probably licking their chops because they're so mad that they lost to us last year."