2020-21 Greenhills/FGR Hockey Season Wrap-up
By James Schapiro, Greenhills School Staff Writer
During the 2019-20 season, Clint Robert, head coach of the Greenhills/Father Gabriel Richard Ice Hockey team, noticed that his team had a problem: it couldn’t stop losing in overtime.
“We lost about seven games in overtime,” Robert said. “I’ve been doing this 15 years, and I don’t think I’d lost seven games in overtime total before last season.”
The team finished the season 12-11-2, but at the end of the season, Robert knew that his roster had enough talent to dominate, if it could just take a small step forward. Players on the 2020-21 co-op team from Greenhills School were Beau Brewer ’22, Nathan Burke ’23, Ryan Kowalchik ’23, and Griffin White ’23.
“We had a very young team,” said Robert, noting that his roster had eight or nine freshmen. He said he hoped that with another year of development, another year to learn the game and get bigger and stronger, the young core could carry his team to excellence. Seven overtime losses didn’t mean they were bad: it mostly just meant they’d been unlucky.
Sure enough, a year later, Robert’s hopes have proven true. In a COVID-shortened season, the 2020-21 team improved to 12-3-1, and won both the Metro League and the Catholic League championships. The team’s season ended with a heartbreaking overtime loss in the MHSAA regional playoffs, but far from being devastated, Robert ended the season happy and proud of his team. The Catholic League championship they won, after all, was the team’s first in four years. The Greenhills/FGR squad has competed in the Metro League since 2017-18, and their Metro championship this season was their first one ever.
“That was a big one to get,” Robert said of the Catholic League championship. “Especially for the guys who’ve been on the team two or three years and haven’t won one yet.”
Ironically, despite the team’s vast improvement since the 2019-20 season, the biggest problem hasn’t quite been fixed. The Greenhills/FGR team lost only three games in 2020-21 — but all three were overtime losses. It’s what a sports commentator might call “a good problem to have;” it’s hard to complain, after all, about going from losing seven out of 11 games in overtime to losing three games total. And in hockey, overtime losses are barely losses at all; they’re more like ties that happen to tilt toward one team or the other. In professional hockey record-keeping, after all, losses and overtime losses are two separate categories, and overtime losses are worth points in the standings.
What’s more, Robert said, it wasn’t just that the team was getting a little less unlucky than the year before. He noticed a concrete improvement.
“Guys had a little more experience. We were a little bit bigger and stronger,” he said. “We flipped the switch. The third period was our worst period last year, but I thought the third period was our best period this year.”
Of course, the season wasn’t quite normal. A COVID-shaped cloud hovered on the horizon, ready to disrupt the proceedings at a moment’s notice if anything went even a little bit wrong. But the team was ready for it.
“In the COVID era, I looked at and appreciated how well the guys did with all the different protocols,” Robert said. “We knew to be able to play as a whole hockey community, we had to do it the right way, and our team did a really good job with that.”
Playing as a team, and as a community, is part of Robert’s coaching philosophy. He doesn’t like to single players out: as he says, “One through 21, everyone has a role, and everyone did a good job with what their role was.”
However, he particularly appreciated his senior class.
“They’re fantastic hockey players,” he said. “Good leaders in the locker room, good leaders outside of the locker room in the community. Guys you can be proud to say are part of your program.”
All season, Robert placed a special emphasis on self-conduct. Playing hockey during a pandemic was a unique challenge, and there were learning experiences for everyone along the way. Sometimes games would stop when referees had to issue mask warnings to opponents, or even remove them from the ice. But Greenhills/FGR players prioritized following protocol and staying safe.
“We never had so much as a warning all season,” he said. “I love to win, but it’s more important to me just to see that the guys are conducting themselves the right way when it’s bigger than hockey.”
Of course, for all the team’s success this season, the playoff overtime loss still sticks in Robert’s mind. The Greenhills/FGR team led 5-2 in the third period before its opponent, Dexter High School, scored three late goals to tie the game, then one more to win — in overtime.
“That one stings,” Robert said.
But it’s not going to drag the team down. “It’s going to motivate them this offseason,” he said, “to put in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”