The 2016 portion of the high school hockey schedule was rather enjoyable for Coach Tim Blashill and his Big Rapids Cardinals, and he’s hoping January, February and March of 2017 will be just as nice.

The Cardinals started out 7-0-1 and were ranked fifth in the state in Division 3 when they hosted No. 4 Sault Ste. Marie on Dec. 16 at Ewigleben Ice Arena in a holiday tournament semifinal. Big Rapids lost that game 3-0, then had to face Division 1 power Rockford in the consolation game and fell 6-2. Blashill said his team was in the penalty box for too long over the weekend.

But it’s still been a promising start for the Cardinals, who hope to have a rematch with the Sault Ste. Marie in the playoffs.

Big Rapids has been getting key contributions in the net from junior Fletcher Bolda in his third varsity season.

“He’s doing great,” Blashill said. “Fletcher’s been getting better every year. This year, he came in much stronger. I’ve always been a believer that the harder you work, the better. Fletcher worked hard in the offseason.”

“I would say that I’ve improved all three years so far,” Bolda said. “It’s helped that I’ve improved height-wise and I’ve gotten stronger and I’m quicker.”

His strength, Bolda said, helps with his mobility around the net.

Key wins for Big Rapids have included the Thanksgiving Tournament title over Bay Area Reps in overtime and the U.S. 131 Cup victory over Cadillac to open the regular season.

“Everyone needs to continue to buy into our systems and our coaches,” Bolda said.

Among the top goal scorers for the Cardinals have been forwards Drew Wotta and Eric Daum.

Wotta is a senior who scored five goals in his team’s first two games. After two weekends, he’d scored seven goals and addednseveral assists.

“He and Garrett Daum are our two most talented kids offensively,” Blashill said. “They feed off each other. They also make the other kids good too.”

Wotta is the right forward on a line that includes his close friend, Daum, at center.

“We feed off each other very well,” Wotta said. “In the fall, we played on Team West Michigan together. That was an experience where we built some chemistry. We built that right into the high school season.”

Daum has also been getting the job done as a Cardinal goal scorer.

He had the winning goal in a 3-2 win over the Bay Area Reps in the title game of the Thanksgiving tournament.

“I’m one of the leaders on the team,” Daum, in his fourth varsity season, said. “That’s really important for our team to try to be a positive image on and off the ice.

“As a team, I think this is going to be our best year,” Daum added. “I think we’ll all play well and be good as a team. I think we’ll have a huge run in the playoffs. Our off ice training in the summer has played a huge part. We have good chemistry. We all work hard.”