HANCOCK - A trio of former Escanaba High School hockey players have taken their game to a new level this season while playing on Finlandia University's first jayvee team.
Freshman forward Jared Degnais and defenseman John LeMire join sophomore center Mark Gauthier on this team, which is coached by former Esky player and Bark River-Harris graduate Travis Hanson.
Finlandia is 0-10 following 3-0 and 3-1 losses at Minot State University-Bottineau in North Dakota in mid-December. The team, however, remains optimistic despite its record.
"We're starting to get better," said Gauthier. "The chemisty of the team is improving. Our timing is down. Practices are getting sharp and the games are getting better."
The Lions have come close a few times, including a 6-5 loss to the Northern Michigan University club team at Marquette on Dec. 2.
"We had 11 players when we went to Northern and they had 20-25," said Gauthier. "Their goaltender had some nice saves. That was definitely our best game so far."
They also dropped a one-goal game at Winona, Minn. on Nov. 18, falling to the St. Mary jayvees 3-2 in overtime, a marked improvement from their 4-0 loss the previous night.
"We played very well in our second game at St. Mary's," said Hanson, who's also a varsity assistant coach. "We've been getting better. We're starting to play more physical. We have finese-type players. But if you're not physical, you're not going to be successful at this level."
The Lions' home ice debut took place Nov. 28 when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Michigan Tech Wolfpack (club team) at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock.
"It wasn't a sellout, but we had a decent fan turnout," said Gauthier. "We had been on the road 2-3 weekends in a row, so it was nice to have our classmates and friends there to cheer us on and give us all the support."
How much of a transition has this been from high school hockey?
"The players are a lot more skilled than in high school, which is probably the biggest part of the transition," said Dagenais. "The games are more physical, although much depends on who you're playing. We need to get faster because the players are much bigger, stronger and faster on varsity."
What has this experience been like?
"It's different from high school," said LeMire. "The transition hasn't been too bad, although the game is definitely faster. It's also a more physical game. Everyone finishes their checks. This has been a good experience. This gives us a better feel of how the college game is played."
Gauthier, other than missing four games due to a concussion, has also enjoyed the season.
"It's fun to be with the guys and make new friendships," said Gauthier. "We're starting to get better. The team chemistry has improved. Our practices are getting better and we're getting into better shape."
LeMire, however, says the Lions still need to work on their conditioning.
"We need to get in better shape and finish our plays," he added.
Dagenais says the team also needs to work on the physical part of its game.
"We need to play the body," Dagenais added. "We need to outhit our opponents."
The Lions' power play is also a work in progress, according to Gauthier.
"We need to get into little bit better position," he said. "In the beginning, we were giving up shorthanded goals. But we're getting better with that. We've had some power play goals, including a couple at Northern."
What have the area players brought to this team?
"John is really making strides," said Hanson. "He's adapting to the pace quite well. Jared is becoming more physical and we feel he's having success that way. Mark is having a solid season despite dealing with the concussion."
The team is idle until Jan. 10-11 when it hosts Minot State-Bottineau.