The playoff loss to TC Bay Reps marks the end of varsity hockey for 16 Rockford Rams. ~ Photo by Sheila Bach
The Rockford Rams Varsity Hockey Club entered the playoffs with lofty goals: a trip to USA Hockey Arena, which would require three playoff wins.
The Rams earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs. On Thursday, Feb. 28, Rockford squared off against Kenowa Hills. The first period ended in a 0-0 tie; the favored Ice Rams appeared nervous, struggling to find their game in the opening frame. Rockford finally broke through midway into the second period. Ryker Christian (assisted by Hunter Dakin) found the back of the net to put the Rams up 1-0. Two minutes later Kevin Healy (assisted by Cade Baumgardner and Kyle Switzer) made it 2-0. With less than five minutes to go in the period, it was Healy again (assisted by Baumgardner and Michael Bedford) putting the Rams up 3-0. The Rams would carry the 3-goal lead into the second intermission. Rockford continued the assault in the third period as Daniel Sokol (assisted by Alex Jones and Healy) made it a 4-goal game. After Kenowa tallied their first score of the game, the Rams would answer as Healy (assisted by Aidan Hoffman) netted his hat-trick goal. Kenowa netted their second goal of the game midway through the final period to cut the Rams lead to 5-2. Baumgardner (assisted by Bedford and Healy) would cap all scoring with just under three minutes to go in the game, making it 6-2. Goaltender Zac Sherman would get credit for the victory.
Two nights later, on Saturday, March 2, Rockford would face the Traverse City Bay Reps in the Region 1 Championship game. Both teams spent much of the year ranked in the top 15 in Division 1. This game would prove to be a battle. After a scoreless first period, it was Rockford that would tally first. Healy (assisted by Sokol) fired the puck past the TC goaltender. The Bay Reps answered with a goal of their own, to knot the game at 1-1. The second period ended with the game tied. Both teams had chances in the third, and it was Bay Reps who would break the tie midway through the final period. The Rams appeared to tie the game 2-2 with just over one minute to play, but the score was waived off by the refs. There was confusion as to whether the puck crossed the goal line or not. After a short discussion, the refs stuck with their decision of no goal. The Ice Rams would pull the goalie for the extra attacker but were unable to net the equalizer. When the horn sounded the scoreboard read Bay Reps 2, Rams 1. And with the loss, the Ice Rams season was over. Sherman was solid in net but took the loss for Rockford.
Despite the premature exit from the playoffs, it was a memorable season for the Orange and Black. The Ice Rams ended with a record of 17-8-2 overall, the most wins since the 2015/16 season. Rockford was crowned co-champions of the OK Rue Conference, with a league record of 8-2-0. This was the first conference championship for the Rams since the 2004/05 season. The CDK Line of Healy, Baumgardner and Sokol put up a combined 156 points on the year, one of the top performances in the state. Healy ended his varsity career with 150 points total, most in school history. Baumgardner ended his varsity career with 111 games played, most in school history. And 16 young men saw their varsity playing careers come to an end.
The loss was disappointing, but the players and coaches gave their all. The emotional and enthusiastic crowd was appreciative, applauding each Rams player and coach as they exited the locker room after the game. Thanks to all Rockford fans for the support all season long.
As always, GO RAMS!