By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
ROMEO – It’s often been said that if a school has a successful football season, that excitement generated in the fall will carry over to the other athletic programs.
Although Romeo hockey coach Nick Badder doesn’t have any football players who were a part of the school’s Division 1 championship win in November, he’s hoping that success will breed success on the ice.
Romeo defeated Detroit Cass Tech, 41-27, at Ford Field to capture the school’s first football MHSAA title. And the hockey team is off to the best start in school history, as the Bulldogs are 12-0 and the team to beat in the Macomb Area Conference Red.
When asked if there is indeed a carryover effect, Badder initially discounted it – and then reassessed the significance.
“I wouldn’t say so,” he said at first. “It was cool for the guys to go down there (to Ford Field) and win.
“That’s our goal. It was a motivator in the beginning. It was good for (our players) to see. The school spirit was lifted, and we want to get there, too. We want the same thing.”
Should Romeo win the Division 2 hockey title this March, it would be the first time a Macomb County program won an MHSAA title in hockey since Fraser won Class A in 1983.
It’s been a steady rise for this program. Romeo lost to Warren DeLaSalle, 3-2, in a Regional Final in 2014, and last season the Bulldogs reached the Quarterfinals for the first time before losing to Grosse Pointe South, 8-2.
Badder, 26, was an assistant in the program in 2014 and took over as head coach last season.
He said the loss to South was an important lesson to learn, for him and his players.
“We didn’t have big-game experience,” he said. “We didn’t handle the situation well. That’s what we’ve been trying to do this year. We don’t want those 9-5 type of games.”
The first order of business was to tighten up the defense. The fact that Badder returned both goaltenders from last season was a good starting point. Junior Nolan Kare has a .883 save percentage and has started every game. Sophomore Grant Williams is his backup.
Kare is not your typical goalie. He’s not afraid to speak his mind whether it’s on the ice or in the locker room.
“He really gets into the game,” Badder said. “He’s a hard worker and a great kid.”
The biggest improvement from last season’s team to this one is depth. Romeo’s first line returns intact, and center Nick Blankenburg is the catalyst. The team captain, Blankenburg doesn’t get outworked. Highly skilled and packing plenty of power despite his smaller size (5-foot-7, 140 pounds), Blankenburg sets the tone and has 19 goals and nine assists.
“Everyone on the team respects him,” Badder said. “And he’s got a bomb for a shot.”
Fellow senior Logan Jenuwine plays left wing and, just like last season, is the team’s top point-getter. He had 90 last season and has 18 goals and 20 assists in 12 games this winter.
At right wing is junior Brett Lanski. He trails only his line mates in points with seven goals and 14 assists.
Romeo’s objective it to jump the other team quickly, grab an early lead and let its depth wear down the opposition.
“That’s what we do,” Badder said. “They’re a high-flying line. We put them together late last January, and they’ve had a lot of success. We tried something different to start (this) season, but we went back to those three and that’s where they’ll stay.”
Badder lost seven seniors to graduation but said the juniors, who bring travel-team experience, have filled the gaps.
“They all can play,” Badder said. “There isn’t a guy out there who doesn’t belong. If we had an injury (last season) it would have been crippling. Not this year. Even the top guys have nights off. Someone has to pick up the slack.”
Shoring up the defense has been seniors Steven Morris and Logan Ganfield. Badder said these defensemen are his most improved players.
Parts of that strong junior class are center Jake Petry and winger Frank Ruffino.
The breakthrough the team experienced last season, capturing a Regional title, set the groundwork for this winter. Winning breeds confidence, and the Bulldogs are riding that wave.
“Our practices have been tight,” Badder said. “There’s no fooling around.
“I learned a lot last year. Everything I’ve done are the things I would want when I played.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Romeo's Zach Peters looks for an opening against Livonia Franklin. (Middle) Romeo coach Nick Badder, center Nick Blankenburg and goaltender Nolan Kare. (Below) Blankenburg (26), Jake Petri (24), Steven Morris (36) and Kare stand strong as part of a solid defense. (Photos courtesy of Donna Peters.)