While the vast majority of the Michigan Warriors’ roster consists of in-state players, two rookies this season have brought championship pedigree with them all the way from St. Louis.
Forward Patrick Gregory and defenseman Ryan Trenz won a Tier III national championship last year with the St. Louis Jr. Blues and were both drafted by the Warriors in last May’s North American Hockey League entry draft – Trenz in the eighth round and Gregory 11 picks later in the ninth round.
For both Gregory and Trenz, their jump to the NAHL has come at a cost – it’s their first time away from home, yet neither one has any complaints other than the odd feeling of being homesick now and then.
“So far, the experience has been great,” said Trenz, who turns 19 later this month. “I have an awesome billet family and a great roommate, so it's always fun around the house. I am a little homesick now, but my grandparents and family have come up a few times to watch the team play and that makes it not so bad. Also, break is coming up soon and I am definitely looking forward to seeing all of my friends back home.”
Gregory agreed with Trenz’s assessment of the situation.
“This is my first time playing on a team that’s not from St. Louis,” said Gregory, already 19. “It’s been a fun experience to come here to Flint. I definitely miss being home sometimes, but everybody here in Flint has done a lot to make me feel at home, especially my billet family.”
Having at least one teammate they’re familiar with also helped the move to Flint for Trenz and Gregory.
“It was nice coming into this season knowing that Pat and I would be playing together again,” said Trenz. “It made it easier to meet the new guys and get comfortable in a new situation.”
“Just as it is in most hockey towns, the hockey communities are very supportive and that made the transition much easier for me,” added Gregory.
Last season, the Jr. Blues dominated the regular season in the Central States Hockey League (now North American 3 Hockey League), won the Hurster Cup playoffs and then went on an impressive run in Boston at the national tournament.
Gregory said he sees a lot of character in the Warriors’ team that reminds him of St. Louis.
“Last season was one that I will never forget,” beamed Gregory. “I look back on our championship season and keep in mind all the teamwork that got us through the hard times and I think our Michigan Warriors team reflects that in a lot of ways.”
Trenz said the memories poke out every so often, but he’d rather focus on winning a championship at the NAHL level.
“We were fortunate to have such a skilled group of players and it felt great to show everyone what we were capable of accomplishing,” explained Trenz. “I do think about it sometimes, but you can't live in the past too much. It's a new season and this year we have a new set of goals, individually and as a team that we are trying to obtain.”
While the St. Louis area may not yet be a hockey hotbed and producing high-level talent, it’s certainly on its way to doing so. Trenz and Gregory are the most recent prime examples.
“St. Louis is growing more teams and developing better and better players each year,” said Gregory. “I look at the younger teams playing in St. Louis and a lot of those kids have the ability to make it in hockey. St. Louis is becoming a respected city in youth hockey.”
“Hockey in the St. Louis area is definitely growing in popularity and it seems like every year, more and more young kids are getting into hockey,” added Trenz. “Not only are more kids starting to play, but the talent level is also getting better.”
With a coach like Moe Mantha helping to develop and improve Trenz’s and Gregory’s games to further their respective careers, both players know how valuable it is to have a coach and a mentor with a 12-year NHL career on their resume, as well as an extensive coaching history.
“Playing for Coach Moe has been a great opportunity,” noted Trenz. “I go to practice everyday knowing that I am going to learn something new and I know I can trust in what I'm being taught because Moe has been there and he knows what it takes to get to the next level.”
Gregory has learned to stay alert, pay attention and absorb everything when Mantha is around.
“It has been a very enlightening experience playing for Coach Mantha,” said Gregory. “I'm learning to view the game an entirely different way and he really makes us think about what we are doing on the ice. He has a good team philosophy that I believe will allow us to win against any opponent this season. And there's never a dull moment at the rink when he's around.”
The Warriors hope to not have a dull spring once the cold weather subsides and Trenz said it’s an obvious team goal want to play hockey as long as they can this season.
“As a team, our ultimate goal is to win the Robertson Cup at the end of the year,” said Trenz. “First things first though, we have to keep winning games and fight to get into the playoffs. We just want to do whatever we can to help the team reach our goals.”