Heritage trails 1-0 then comes back to defeat Powers, 5-2, in a preview of state tournament opener
Burton — The state hockey tournament will get here in due time.
But while others eagerly anticipated the Saginaw Heritage-Flint Powers showdown as a preview of a Division 3 postseason opener, the Hawks tried to live in the moment.
Tuesday night’s game at Crystal Fieldhouse wasn’t win-or-go-home, but it did determine which team was in the driver’s seat in the Saginaw Valley League standings.
Armed with that motivation alone, the Hawks came into Powers’ home rink and skated off with a 5-2 victory, keyed by two shorthanded goals.
No. 6 Heritage improved to 5-0 in the Valley and 15-2 overall. No. 2 Powers fell to 4-1 in the Valley, 15-2-1 overall.
"Obviously, it’s a good win for us," Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. "It’s part of our process of trying to win our league. We’re taking it one game at a time. We’re not worried about anything come playoff time. I told the guys, ‘Let’s not make this about anything other than tonight.’ That’s what we were trying to do, just thinking about tonight, not worrying about anything else."
Powers and Heritage are slated to meet in a pre-regional game on Feb. 29 at Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena, the Hawks’ home rink. It will be Heritage’s first postseason game in Division 3 after being a Division 2 squad ever since the tournament went to a divisional format in 2000. Heritage has made the state quarterfinals six times in Division 2, reaching the semifinals three times. Powers had been in the quarterfinals 14 times in 16 years of Division 3 play, but is looking at a much-tougher opening-round assignment than it typically gets.
"We’re going to have to find ways to get ready for them in a month," Powers coach Travis Perry said. "We’re probably long overdue for one of these games. It’s tough, because one of the top (six) teams in the division is going home the first day, but that’s the way it goes sometimes."
Powers entered the game with a 12-game unbeaten streak (11-0-1). It appeared the Chargers were going to keep rolling when junior Conor Witherspoon scored just 59 seconds into the game.
Gavin Dietrich got the equalizer for Heritage with 2:55 left in a first period in which the Hawks had a 9-4 advantage in shots.
Powers regained the lead with another early goal, as sophomore Josh Warda scored at 1:25 of the second period. As it turned out, that would be the last shot that would get past junior goalie Danny Yockey of Heritage. Yockey finished with 22 saves, as Heritage outshot Powers 32-24.
Junior Sam Spaedt, the Hawks’ leading scorer, took over in the second period. He had an assist on junior Spencer Vondette’s game-tying goal at 3:31 of the second period, then scored a shorthanded go-ahead goal at 10:45 and another unassisted goal at 14:29 to give Heritage a 4-2 lead after two periods.
It was the fourth two-goal game of the season for Spaedt, who nonetheless is known for his playmaking ability. He has 11 goals and 30 assists, with three of those goals coming while killing penalties.
"I’m always a pass-first mentality," Spaedt said. "The guys are great. They bury the puck after I give it to them. If I have a chance to score, I’ll take it. I’m happy if the guys give me the puck. The team really meshes well; that’s part of the points, too."
One more shorthanded goal by the Hawks, their eighth of the season, was the backbreaker as far as the Chargers were concerned. Just six seconds into the third period, Brandon Ashley got the puck from the opening faceoff, skated past a fallen defender and buried a wrist shot to make it 5-2.
"It’s a big win," Yockey said. "We haven’t won the Saginaw Valley League in seven years. It’s ours to lose now."