WARREN, Mich. - Robert Vanderdonck is one of many newcomers to the De La Salle Collegiate hockey team this season.
Like most of his teammates, he's getting to know his new coach, Nick Badder, and his system. It's going to be a steep learning curve for all involved. But he's doing his best to trust his new coach and what he's teaching.
On Friday night, it all paid off for the sophomore forward.
Vanderdonck had a hat trick, scoring the first and last goals of the game - the final tally coming with two minutes to play - to lead his team to a thrilling 6-5 victory over visiting Lake Orion.
"Coach said crash the net, and that's all I did," said Vanderdonck, who took a pass off a faceoff deep in Lake Orion's end, ripped a shot on goal, and followed it up to beat the Dragons' goalie. "It felt great. That was the best. We've started to buy into what the coach said and that's all we needed to do."
The goal capped off a back-and-forth game that saw the Pilots grab an early lead, surrender that lead in the second period before rallying for the win.
"Offensively we had to compete with them because it was so back and forth," Badder said. "I don't think the game had a lot of flow to it. It was more like a last-guy standing type of game."
Both teams delivered blows in the third period. With the game tied, 4-4, De La Salle senior Jacob Frederick gave his team the lead, scoring off a pass from senior Nicholas Twombley. But Lake Orion would answer back eight minutes later on a goal by Brendan Bajis.
That set the stage for Vanderdonck's heroics.
De La Salle took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals by Vanderdonck and sophomore Matthew Rimas. Both came in the final four minutes of the period
Lake Orion cut the lead in half just three minutes into the second on Bajis's first goal of the game. It was an unassisted goal, coming off a De La Salle turnover just seconds after the Pilots finished up a power-play opportunity.
But less than two minutes later, De La Salle extended its lead back to two goals thanks to Vanderdonck, who took a pass from Rodgers before beating Lake Orion goalie Lucas Haddad for a 3-1 lead.
The Dragons would not give up, however, as they would score the next three goals to take a 4-3 lead. The first two goals came just 25 seconds apart, midway through the second period. Brendan Finn and Thomas Wreath did the damage. Andrew Potyk's power-play goal with 5:34 left in the second period gave Lake Orion its first lead of the game. The goal came during a five-minute major penalty taken by the Pilots.
"(Lake Orion) didn't create a lot in that first period, but once they went on that power play, they took off," Badder said. "(Lake Orion coach Adam) Krefski knows how to do it. He and I had coached at Romeo before, so I knew it was going to happen."
De La Salle junior Teagan Fuqua stopped the bleeding, scoring off a pass from senior Larry Lavigne to help his team tie the game at 4-4 with 2:55 left in the period. It couldn't have come at a bigger time for the Pilots.
"I thought in the first period, we came out and played well, but in the second we just took a step back. I don't know if we thought it was going to be easy because we went up 2-0," Badder said. "In those types of situations, when you feel the ice shift, the momentum shift, that's when every just has to be calm. I always tell the boys not to be too high when they score and don't be too low when you're scored on. You have to be even-keeled."
The loss drops Lake Orion to 0-1-1 overall. De La Salle is 1-0 and returns to the ice Saturday night when it is set to square off against Grosse Pointe South in another non-league matchup. The game will once again be played at the Mount Clemens Ice Arena (6 p.m.). Badder is hoping his team can clean up a few things - particularly on defense.
"We were puck watching all over. The back-door play was open every time. They were hitting that seam play on the power play," said Badder speaking of his team's second-period breakdown against the Dragons. "Again, it's something our penalty-kill hasn't work a lot on in practice. We're just two weeks into the season. There's just a lot of fine-tuning in the system stuff that we don't know how to do right now. It's going to take some time. In that second period, I don't think we brought the same intensity. We stopped working.
"At the end of the day, we got it done. It wasn't pretty, but I don't think any of our wins are going to be this year."