Hartland wins first state title, defeats Trenton 4-2 in the D2 final
Plymouth — Hartland might have had its most important period in program history during the second period of the MHSAA Division 2 hockey finals.
The Eagles killed a 5-on-3, and short-handed. The catalyst of all of it all was two seniors, seniors who have been with the program for three years and are currently the face of Hartland hockey.
“What we’ve really done a good job of is the mental part of the game. In situations like last year, it was just mental exhaustion. Physically we could go. It was buying into things like our freight train mentality, and having something to work for,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said.
“And Josh Albring and Jake Behnke were the conductors of that train. They led this team as sophomores on and off the ice. Now just to see them…they’re not kids anymore. They’re men. They’ve done a great job of maturing and becoming elite players.”
Albring and Behnke made sure the train wouldn’t stop before its final destination as they propelled Hartland to its first state championship by defeating Trenton, 4-2, on Saturday at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
The journey though didn’t start at USA Hockey Arena or even at the Hartland Sports Center. It started three years ago in Troy at the hands of Birmingham Brother Rice where the Eagles played hard and lost a heart-breaker, 4-3, in a quarterfinal.
The following year Albring and Behnke (the two’s first year with the program) helped Hartland lick their wounds and defeat Brother Rice at Novi Ice Arena in overtime, 5-4. Their energy waned and they lost in the semifinals to Livonia Stevenson. Hartland lost to Brother Rice in the semifinals last season.
“Big game experience is huge. We lost in the semifinals here in my junior year,” Mr. Hockey candidate Jake Behnke said.
“We were way more confident today because we knew what we had to do to complete this journey. We kept telling the younger guys that this is just another game, and we’ll compete.”
Helping the first line get going was junior Joey Larson who intercepted the puck in the Trenton end with seven minutes to play in the first period. Larson chipped the puck to Behnke who went stick side and took the lead, 1-0, on a shot as he was falling to the ice.
Midway through the second, Albring displayed his speed when he chipped the puck past a Trenton defender in the neutral zone. The senior raced the puck into the Trenton end and scored to increase the lead to 2-0.
The backbreaker and the eventual game-winning goal came on the 5-on-3 with 3:11 left in the second period. Senior Jake Gallaher stopped the puck in the Trenton end. Behnke picked it up and deked before going to the 5-hole for a 3-0 lead. A minute later Behnke assisted on a goal by Larson from the slot for a 4-0 lead.
The Trojans battled back in the third period. Senior Drew Welsch found a way to slip a pinch at the blue line and found Nola Szczepaniak trailing in the hashes for to cut into the lead, 4-1, to capitalize off a five-minute major midway through the third period.
Sophomore Brandon Clark added another goal, 4-2, late in the third.
But the damage was already done. Hartland benefited off relationships that were formed in the first grade between Albring and Behnke, and the relationships between the two and Gadwa.
Gadwa was just happy the two players, along with the Hartland team passed up AAA opportunities to come to Hartland and win a state title.
“I spent a lot of time talking to them about playing high school hockey, and how it’ll be something that’s worth it for them. It took a lot of convincing before Albring and Behnke decided to play here,” he said. “They’ll joke about it now. But they can never look back and say that this was the wrong decision. It was the right decision, and I couldn’t be happier to celebrate with them.
“This means the world. Been talking about this for seven, eight years with the coaches. I knew if this one were to happen it’d be because of the coaches we have,” Albring said.
“There’s nothing better. All the blood sweat and tears…a lot of tears, and a lot of hard work for this moment. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Albring tallied four assists, and a goal in the semifinals and finals. Behnke had five goals and two assists in the semifinals and finals. The two had six assists and six goals in two days, and now one state championship.