Hartland scores three goals in the first and goes on to defeat Forest Hills Northern/Eastern, 9-1, in a D2 semifinal
Plymouth — All season long Hartland hasn’t been the strongest team on the power play. Coach Rick Gadwa didn’t really have an answer as to why as the unit only converted eight-percent during the regular season.
“Tonight is as good as it has been for us,” Gadwa said. “We struggled early in the year with our number one unit, but we kept working on it all year. We’ve made tweaks as coaches, and the players also made tweaks as well.
“When kids buy in like that and realize how important special teams can be to turn a game around, it can be special.”
It was a different story on Thursday as the Eagles’ power play unit was exceptional going 5-for-7 in Hartland’s 9-1 win over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern/ Eastern at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
The Eagles will play Trenton on Saturday at 10 a.m. for the Division 2 title.
Hartland (23-6-1) wasted little time getting a seizing the momentum and never looked back.
Senior Josh Albring won the draw and kicked the puck to junior Gabe Anderson. Anderson quickly gave the puck up to sophomore John Druskinis who blasted the shot for a 1-0 lead after just 43 seconds.
“It’s been the key to the game all season,” Gadwa said. “Fast starts, starting on time, and getting that first goal. When we score first, we’re tough to beat. It’s always one of our objectives entering big games, and we accomplished it tonight.”
Northern/Eastern got into more trouble midway through the first period when it sent a player to the penalty box for crosschecking.
Hartland senior and Mr. Hockey candidate Jake Behnke kick-started the power play unit when he rifled a shot from the point for a 2-0 lead four seconds into the man advantage.
Though the Huskies would kill another power play three minutes later, they immediately were back down a man with 2:29 left in the period.
Junior forward Joey Larson fired a shot that hit the far side post, but the caromed towards the neutral zone where junior Brendan Tulpa collected the rebound and cycled the puck back to Larson for a one-timer and a 3-0 lead with 1:23 left in the first period.
Senior Josh Albring was the catalyst for three other goals (4 assists) from the faceoff as well. The co-captain’s ability to win draws and set-up teammates simultaneously really helped kick the offense into high gear the entire game.
“We work on our draws every day after practice,” Albring said. “Everyone helps each other get better with little tips and techniques to win draws. Those extra set of eyes have really helped us be efficient with our draws.”
At the start of the second Albring assisted on a blast from junior Brendan Tulpa (goal, assist) for a 4-0 lead on the power play.
Late in the period, Behnke earned his second hat trick of the postseason when he capitalized off two more power plays for the Eagles for a 6-0 lead.
“I’ve come close a lot of times before,” he said. “I’ve hit posts or just missed wide, but this was different. I can’t explain what was different tonight. I just got better looks.”
Eagle junior Ryan Whitton added to the lead, 7-0, early in the third period before Northern/Eastern (18-11-1) got on the board, after failing to capitalize on six previous power plays, on a goal by Josh Boverhof.
Hartland capped the end of the third period with two goals by Benjamin Tervo and Gabe Anderson to complete the scoring.
Northern/Eastern has been a force to be reckoned with as this team has made the semifinals for its third straight season despite coming up short of winning a state title.
Even though the program will graduate its top scorers and seven seniors, coach Tom Bissett said the future is still bright.
“We had a special group there’s no doubt about it. If you look where our program has come, especially the last three years with these guys with their leadership as sophomores, to the final four when nobody expected us to be here, it has been incredible,” he said.
“This run speaks well for our program as a whole for our younger guys coming up and who is coming back for us what can be done and what’s left to achieve.”