The Michigan Mountain Cats probably logged more miles than any other North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) team last season.
Figure that the team practiced at Ice Mountain Arena in Burton and played their home games the first half of the season an hour away at Canfield Arena in Dearborn. The second half of the season saw the Mountain Cats find a new home rink at Farmington Hills Ice Arena.
Also figure in road trips to St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Iowa and the term “road trip” took on a whole new meaning last year.
“The people at Farmington Hills really took care of us and that will be our home rink next season,” Mountain Cats head coach Chad Grills said. “I’m happy it worked out and happy that once we found our home there, the kids didn’t have to worry about where they would be playing.”
Last summer, the Motor City Chiefs franchise was sold to Jeff Brayan and he renamed the team the Mountain Cats. The Chiefs had been mired in the lower echelon of the NA3HL standings and even though the Mountain Cats missed the playoffs this past season, the season wasn’t a total loss.
“I think we had a good season,” Grills said. “We were a very young team, but we made great strides. We’ve really been getting our name out there and that’s been a great recruiting tool. It’s been easier getting kids out to our open skates and we’re ahead of where we were at this point last year.”
Josh Foster, this past season’s captain, has already committed to returning to the Mountain Cats next year and Grills said he’ll wear the ‘C’ again in 2011-12.
“Josh only played 26 games last year and when he went out injured, that really took some of the wind out of our sails,” said Grills. “He’s a true leader and with him out, we didn’t have a leader the second half of the season. He’ll be back next season and I’m excited to have Josh back with us.”
As a rookie coach, Grills admitted there were times he learned on the fly, but as the season wore on, he said he adjusted to his own unique coaching style.
“We had a team that competed, that never quit,” Grills said. “We always worked hard and I didn’t care if we didn’t have the talent, we were never out-worked. I had several opposing coaches come up to me after games and tell me they were impressed with the way we played.”
Grills said that with just Foster all but confirmed for next fall, he’s going to evaluate players at the Mountain Cats’ open skates and hopefully get some keepers in the NA3HL draft scheduled for later this offseason.
“In the draft, I think you build from the goal out,” said Grills. “Our goalies from last season, Bob Schultz and Schuyler Ferguson, Schultz has aged-out and I’d love to have Schuyler back, but I think he’s moving up. We’re also looking at getting a solid defenseman. There are a ton of good forwards out there, so if we can get a top-end defenseman first, that’s where we’ll go.
“It’s still early and a lot of our guys from last season have no idea what they’ll be doing next year. It’s a long summer and we have a lot of work to do. We’re getting our name out there and we’ll see what happens.”
As early as this past January, the Mountain Cats were in a position to make the playoffs, but according to Grills, “We just fell off and when guys were injured, I just started plugging holes.”
Next year, Grills has a goal set to be one of the top eight teams to play for the Hurster Cup.
“This league, anyone can beat anyone on any night,” explained Grills. “Look at Quad City. They went down to St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs and beat St. Louis. I think the playoffs are a realistic goal for next season.
“If we continue to be a hard-working team next year, we can overcome anything.”