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Churchill senior returns after hard hit to net 3OT game winner against Franklin

By: Ben Szilagy, March 3, 2015, 12:15 am

Livonia — The full intensity of the rivalry between Livonia Churchill and Livonia Franklin was on full display Monday night in a Division 2 pre-regional hockey game filled with hard hits.

Senior captain Dylan Smith absorbed one of the biggest hits in the contest, and, despite playing hurt, was responsible for the biggest moment in leading Churchill to a 4-3 triple-overtime victory.

Smith took a vicious check with 6:45 left in the second overtime. He never saw it coming.

He had his head down at the blue line while a Patriots player skated across the ice and delivered a blow that turned him inside out. He lay sprawled on the ice.

“I didn’t see him coming. I turned around, and he was right there. The only thing I felt was the ground,” Smith said.

The Franklin player was ejected immediately following the flagrant hit, but there was some doubt if Smith would continue. He needed assistance to reach the bench, where he  immediately was issued a concussion test by the training staff.

“The trainers kept asking me if I was alright, and I knew I was alright," he recalled. "They agreed and let me play."

The 6-foot-1 Smith, who was celebrating his birthday, returned to notch the game winner.

It avenged a regular-season loss for the Chargers (9-14-3).

“The shot came from the point and it spun around off the goalie’s pad. I crashed the net, and poked it in. It’s indescribable,” he said. "I couldn’t have wished for anything more.”

Churchill coach Jason Reynolds held out Smith for a shift to make sure it was safe to send him back onto the ice.

“Dylan is a competitor and fights through that stuff," Reynolds said. "When he’s in game mode, he wants to play to the finish.

“We had a lot of those hits against us tonight. We used our trainers more than we normally do. Luckily, Dylan passed all the initial tests, and he wanted to keep going," he added. "If he had clearly shown on his face he couldn’t go, he wouldn’t have played."

He said Smith left no doubt he was prepared to return to action.

“Dylan is a leader and he has a great deal of passion. As captain of our team, he stressed how much he wanted to win," Reynolds said. "He wanted to be an essential part to winning this game.”

Churchill got out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a quick goal junior Nolan Cioch 24 seconds into the game. Senior Parker Hodges added an unassisted shorthanded goal for a 2-0 lead with 7:25 left in the first period.

Franklin (9-11-3) stormed back behind junior Jack Engel, who scored goals in the first and second periods. Trevor Lassaline, another junior, gave the Patriots their only lead, 3-2, with two minutes remaining in the second period when he scored on a breakaway.

“Our guys have always competed. We’ve been down in a lot of games this year, and they found a way to fight back,” Franklin coach Dennis Gagnon said.

The momentum was stolen early in the third period when Churchill had a man advantage. Shortly after the power play expired, Justin O’Brien poked a loose puck through the goaltender’s pads for a 3-3 tie.

“We’ve stressed the importance of coming out with a high energy. We’ve been in so many close games that it can spark a young team,” Reynolds said. “O’Brien’s goal was a nice pick-me-up, because we weren’t tentative anymore. We got our second wind.”

Churchill plays Livonia Stevenson at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Eddie Edgar Ice Arena. The winner of that matchup represents the city of Livonia in the regional final on Saturday.