As part of his team’s title run, Atholton Coach Bud Michels held up his end of a bargain he made upon taking the position three years earlier. Once Atholton advanced to the Howard Cup, the conference’s tournament championship, the coaches donned tuxedos for the remainder of the playoffs.
With the fifth-ranked Raiders (9-1) getting ready for next week’s Howard tournament, Michels has put the same deal in place again.
“I don’t think it’s superstitious. It’s just a fun thing, and we do it,” Michels said. “And so the gauntlet’s been laid down. I said that if you guys want us to wear a tuxedo, we’ll wear it, but you’d better win. We’ll wear it until we lose.
“[The players] wanted to do it again this year. We have to get to the Howard Cup, and that’s when we’ll be looking dapper again.”
At the end of last season, the Atholton players all received black tuxedo T-shirts to commemorate their championship. And to add some variation, a return trip to the MSHL title game this year will put the coaches in tuxedos with white ties and black tails.
“I think it gives us a little extra motivation to get back to the championship,” senior defenseman Jake Mills said.
The Raiders lost several contributing seniors from last season, including Michels’s son Zach, a second-team All-Met selection at forward. That hasn’t stopped them from securing the top seed and a first-round bye in the tournament.
Michels attributes the success not to fancy duds, but to a deep and well-rounded roster.
Some of that comes from having good talent available, always an issue for public school teams. It also stems, Michels said, from his commitment to finding meaningful ice time for all of his players, to make sure they are ready down the road.
“A lot of teams only play the best players, and that’s it,” he said. “We play everybody . . . so they understand the system and so when they come in next year and the seniors are gone, we don’t have to teach them something new. They know it.”
The result is a team Michels believes is capable of compensating for any lack of individual talent with a cohesiveness that comes from everyone, including underclassmen, being involved.
It’s something Mills has noticed through his four years at Atholton.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, you’re the young guy and you’ve got to earn respect and you know how it feels to finally earn that and have everyone appreciate you,” he said. “It’s the same with these freshmen and sophomores. We appreciate them, and they’ve earned their way into our respect.”
Spalding makes some noise
In previous years, Cavaliers Coach Patrick McNeally said, a Spalding victory over a perennial power such as Landon or DeMatha might have been dismissed as a fluke. This season, with a stretch performances like the one Spalding is currently riding, it would be hard for the rest of the league not to take notice.