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Hartland blanks Livonia Stevenson, wins first KLAA title

By: Ben Szilagy, February 19, 2016, 10:05 pm



Livonia — The Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship has been the carrot that dangled out of the reach of Hartland the past three seasons. On Friday Hartland finally got its hands on it.

The Eagles secured its first 20-win season and captured its first KLAA title in four appearances behind a 4-0 victory host Livonia Stevenson.

“It’s so fulfilling,” Hartland assistant coach John McCullough said. “Winning the championship was something we talked a lot about because we wanted to leave our mark on the program.

“We’ve won regional championships, and we’ve been to the state finals, but we’ve never captured a league crown until tonight.”

While the night was a memorable for Hartland and its players, it’ll be especially memorable for coach Rick Gadwa, who wasn’t in attendance. Gadwa had to catch the game from a tablet from a hospital where his wife was in labor and later gave birth to a baby girl.

The Eagles (20-2-1) scoring chances were few and far between in the first two periods. They needed to rely on senior goaltender Christian Spangler, who stopped 45 shots, to step up and be the difference maker.

The senior was called upon to push away flurries of shots as he was peppered all night.

Junior Blake Heir scored off a Spartan defender late in the first period for a 1-0 lead and Spangler said that maintaining that the lead wasn’t on his shoulders alone.

“I was nervous. I’ll be honest. Stevenson is a good offensive team,” Spangler said. “I had to be ready for anything they were going to throw at me. I was only a part of a great team defensive effort tonight.”

Stevenson (17-6-1) did have solid chances in the second period including a one-timer in front of the net that was saved by Spangler at the last second.

“We ran into a great goaltender tonight who made big saves when he needed to,” Stevenson coach David Mitchell said. “Our guys couldn’t finish around the net. It happens to us from time to time. Give them all the credit in the world, they took the wind out of our sails.”

Hartland captain Luke Cowan proved to be a key element offensively earning two goals in the third period to open the game up. The senior offered a wrist shot as he crossed into the slot for a 2-0 lead, and finished off a one-timer from Jake Behnke eight minutes into the period for a 3-0 lead on the power play.

“Everything tonight started with Christian,” McCullough said. “He frustrated Stevenson a bit until we could get our guys going. We need guys like Blake (Heir) to step up like he did.

“Luke is one of the best captains and leaders I’ve seen in 31 years of coaching hockey. He stays late in practice picking up pucks, gathering sticks, or rallying his teammates. He’s invaluable to us.”

Hartland sophomore Josh Albring scored on an empty net to seal the game.