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Novi skates past Saline behind Hofelich’s hat-trick to earn first regional title since 2011

By: Jeff Dullack, March 7, 2015, 11:54 pm

Novi – A season ago, Novi left its regional final appearance with a bitter taste in its mouth as the Wildcats surrendered a late lead and fell at the hands of eventual Division 2 state finalist Hartland in double overtime.

Fast forward one year later and the Wildcats walked out of the regional final with a much better feeling than the one they had the year before.

Novi jumped out to a 2-0 second period lead over Saline and earned a 4-2 win behind a hat-trick from Hockey Player of the Year Candidate Brad Hofelich, notching the school’s first regional title since 2011, the same year the Wildcats went on to win the Division 2 state championship.

Novi coach Mark Vellucci said that there wasn’t much of a message to his team concerning last year’s loss, but added that he felt his team played some its best, most focused hockey on Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t think it was a big message, the guys knew it was a heartbreaker last year and they’ve had a goal all summer, fall and winter of getting past the regional final and getting past the quarterfinal,” he said. “It was the most focused I’ve seen them play since the second Northville game this season. It’s just a testament to the kids, we can get them as ready as possible, but they were focused, they blocked shots and they did everything we have asked them all season and you saw the result.”

Novi (16-9-2) now advances to the Division 2 quarterfinals where the Wildcats will face the winner of the Livonia Stevenson-Trenton regional final on Tuesday, March 10th at 6:30 at Yost Ice Arena.

With Novi holding a 2-0 lead late in the second period, Saline (23-5) finally found the back of the net when defenseman Ryan Blake-Jones scored to cut the Novi lead in half, 2-1 as the two teams went into the second intermission.

But Novi would answer almost immediately in the third period as Ryan Baxter scored less than 30 seconds into the stanza to extend the Novi lead back to two goals, 3-1.

“It was huge,” Vellucci said of Baxter’s goal. “They (Saline) had just scored a power play goal with a minute and a half left in the second, and then we came back and I said to the guys that we had plenty of time. I think we scored about 20 seconds into the third period, so that was huge.”

Novi then took its largest lead of the game as Hofelich would register his third goal of the game just over two minutes after Baxter’s goal to extend the lead to 4-1.

Saline would trim the deficit down to 4-2 late in the game on a goal from Greg Houle.

Hofelich said that he and his teammates remembered last year’s regional final heartbreaker and were determined to come out with a different result this time around.

“We just wanted to come out hard,” he said. “We remember that feeling from last year and we really wanted that regional championship today and we fought pretty hard.”

After a scoreless first period, Hofelich and Novi came out strong as the senior scored just over three minutes into the second period to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.

Hofelich wasn’t done there as he found the net again with 8:38 left to play in the second period when he took a pass right off of the faceoff and sent the puck off the post and in to push the Novi lead to 2-0.

“My line-mates played great and they were feeding me the puck,” said Hofelich. “The whole team played great tonight and we just got a couple of great chances and we buried a few of them.”