Championship teams typically overcome some adversity and challenges during a championship season.
By Jim Smith
The recently crowned NA3HL Silver Cup Champions, the Granite City Lumberjacks, understand that as well as any team.
“We were just mentally tough,” said Granite City head coach Brad Willner. “We had a lot of adversity thrown at us. From the trade deadline on, we lost two regular defenseman to injuries, we lost another forward to a collarbone injury and in the playoffs, we had the flu go through the team. We battled through that adversity and we didn’t let it affect us.”
The Lumberjacks previously won the Silver Cup in 2015 and have earned three titles in six years.
“We lost in the division finals [last season] and we had a good core of veteran guys that came back and right from the get-go that was their motivation: try and secure home ice for the playoffs and make it into the Silver Cup,” declared Willner.
Willner cited Will Mix, twin brothers Matthew and William Sprink, Casey Esselman, Spencer Nelson, Eric Moser and Braden Altena as veterans leading the charge.
Altena, along with forward Matthew Moran and goaltender Mac Berglove, were named to the NA3HL Silver Cup All-Tournament Team, with Berglove earning Most Valuable Player honor.
“[Berglove] was great for us all year,” added Willner. “He played every game during the playoffs and the guys battled in front of him. He made some unbelievable saves to keep us in it later on.”
Although the Lumberjacks trailed in many of their playoff games, including trailing the Metro Jets 1-0 before rallying to win the championship game 2-1, Willner noted how challenging division play throughout the season was key in preparing his team for the playoff run.
“We play in a top division. Night in and night out, we have to battle and play a full 60 minutes. What really helped us out was the strength of our division during the regular season and playing in those tight games,” added Willner. “We were used to it and it didn’t mentally challenge our guys and we were emotionally under control.”
While reflecting upon the success his various teams have experienced, Willner presented several thoughts.
“I think the biggest thing that is the same is that we are a very close-knit group of guys. They all got along and didn’t really care who [scored] the goals.
“Everybody gave up their own personal agenda to have the team win. That has been a big reason for our success.”
Specific to this year’s championship team, Willner noted the shared efforts of the squad.
“If you look at the scoring, it is spread out throughout all the lines. During the entire playoffs and the Silver Cup Tournament, we rolled four lines and all of our five or six defensemen played,” Willner added. “We didn’t have to rely on one or two lines to get it done for us. Every one of our lines contributed and I think that was a big key. We played eight games in 10 days and being able to have that depth was key for our chances to win.”
In yet another memorable season for his Lumberjacks, Willner will recall the resiliency of his team.
“I think the mental toughness of this group of guys is what I will remember most.”
Follow Jim Smith on Twitter @BlueLineNotes
Read past NA3HL articles in our archives: