Eagles hockey team reflects on a season with many accolades

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

When the season began, Clay was expected to have a good hockey team.
But they likely exceeded expectations with 33 wins, a district championship and a league title to highlight a season that saw the Eagles lose just four matches and tie another.
Clay had four players earn first-team honors in the Northern Hockey Conference White Division – Andrew Schruader (43 goals, 42 assists), Noah Schacht (1.56 GAA, .949 save pct.), Xander Kert (43 goals, 28 assists) and Ethan Van Hersett (23 goals, 38 assists). Brady Cook (48 goals, 20 assists), Jake Titgemeyer, Curtis Belli, Grady Minnick, Gavin Minnick and Braylon Snyder were awarded honorable-mention distinctions.
Titgemeyer won Sportsperson of the Year honors in the White Division and Schacht was Player of the Year in the White Division.
“We had a talented team. We had a good mixture of players who have played a lot of hockey and players that are that blue-collar type. Our goaltending led the way, though. Noah, Curtis, Brayden all had great seasons and are all talented kids. Noah led the bunch. He was very deserving of his Player of the Year award,” said Clay coach E.J. LeMay. “The exciting part is, this is still a young team. We graduate three seniors, so we will return a great group that is more hungry than ever.”
Did LeMay expect the Eagles were capable of doing great things?
“The short answer is yes. I knew we had some really good players returning. I knew we would have great goaltending. But the thing that carried us all year was the players and their desire to get better, their desire to win,” he said. “We set out two main goals in the preseason and those were to win our division and make noise in the playoffs. They won the division, and I think it's safe to say made some noise (in the postseason). All credit to our guys; they’re just phenomenal young men.
“It was a full team effort. It started way back at summer skates. This group works hard on and off the ice and those efforts are paying off in games. Roughly a year and a half ago, we said we wanted to elevate this hockey program to heights it had never seen, and it’s a lot of fun seeing it progress that direction.”
Perhaps the highlight was a 1-0 win in overtime over Northview in the Division I district finals, a match won when Kert scored in the extra session.
“The game against Northview was amazing. The game had a ton of energy. Northview is a great team; they have a ton of great players and are well-coached. But going in we knew we had a chance to not only be competitive, but win,” said LeMay. “I’m just so happy for our players; they deserved it more than anyone knows. I’m also happy for our community, and they sure showed up big for us that night. The win is a great stepping stone for our program.”
It was a program-defining victory.
“One of the goals we set as a team was to make some noise in the playoffs,” said Titgemeyer. “To win that game against a Red Division team that is usually at the top in our area was really special.”
LeMay also counts a 4-3 win over Anthony Wayne on Feb. 3 as a big victory, as was the Jan. 27 7-1 win over Lake, which clinched the division for Clay. He also counts a 5-2 win over Bedford (MI) in the opener on Nov. 18 as a key victory.
“Beating the Generals was really special,” said Titgemeyer. “Last year, our season ended against them in the playoffs.”
As a team, the Eagles set five program records — team goals, penalty kill percentage, wins, individual GAA for a season (Schact) and individual GAA for NHC play (Schact).
LeMay talked about the leadership provided by his seniors.
“We had three seniors this year and they all played a different role. Noah Schacht was spectacular in net, everyone knows that. But the best part about having him was his maturity. The way he prepared for practice and games was just excellent. He really set the bar high going forward,” said LeMay. “Brady Cook scored 40-plus goals this year – that's nothing to overlook, and he's a guy I never had to worry about. He’s a great young man who has an exciting future ahead of him. Ayden Nowicki was probably the most passionate person in our locker room. He came in every day with enthusiasm and energy. We are going to miss him big-time.”
Titgemeyer has high expectations for the team next season.
“In my opinion, I think we can run with any team in the state,” he said. “The attitude and effort we put in during the offseason and going into the season is going to be huge. We have what it takes to hang with any team.”


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