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Romeo wins 5-2, reaches first state final

By: Ben Szilagy, March 10, 2016, 10:56 pm



Plymouth – In the fall, Romeo’s community saw something incredible happen when their Volleyball team, and Football team reached the state finals. School assemblies and the shine from state championship rings reminded the hockey team, that they, too, could be a part of something special.

At USA Hockey Arena on Thursday it wasn’t a dream, it was reality.

The Bulldogs will appear in its first state championship game after they beat Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern, 5-2.

Romeo will face Livonia Stevenson on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Division 2 final.

“There wasn’t pressure. It was motivation,” Romeo coach Nick Badder said. “We’ve been preaching since day one that our team can play in the state championship. Our kids are good enough to be here. Then we started to believe it.”

Romeo (26-2-1) did what it always had done in the playoffs, score first and score often.

The Bulldogs receive two first period goals from senior Nick Blankenberg and junior Frank Ruffino for a 2-0 lead.

“That was huge for us,” Blakenberg said. “We needed that momentum to spring us on offense. We have always scored first in all our post-season games, so we wanted to capture that momentum right away.”

Romeo senior Blake Gabler camped in front of the net and buried a pass from Blakenberg for a 3-0 lead 7:11 into the second. Then the Bulldogs’ penalty kill unit had to work.

“What can you do? You can’t change the ref’s call. I’m not going to agree with all of them, either. We showed resiliency and that we can fight through adversity. We just laid it all out there,” Badder said.

Romeo had to kill three five-minute majors throughout the game, one in each period. The penalties allowed Forest Hills Eastern (17-12-1) to do its damage with eight seconds left of the second power play.

Senior Matthew Bageris chipped the puck ahead to Josh Boverhof who fired the puck over the shoulder of Nolan Kare to cut into the lead, 3-1.

After Romeo senior Logan Jenuwine scored to make it 4-1, Forest Hills Eastern was back on the power play and cashed in again when sophomore Alex Barton slammed in a rebound goal 3:55 into the third to slice the lead to 4-2.

“We know that could the affect the game,” Blakenberg said. “We had to have more passion in our play, and we had to kill off that power play and limit the damage. They were right back in it.”

Badder said the effort defensively was first-rate.

“I’ve never seen a team block shots the way we did at any level. Our boys were willing to sacrifice their faces, shins, and stomach,” Badder added.

Those sacrifices and stifling defensive pressure closed out the game for Romeo and allowed Brett Lanski to score with 58 seconds left off a turnover in the neutral zone.

Even though Romeo is one step closer to a state title, the team knows they have a tough test against Livonia Stevenson on Saturday.

“We knew we had a special team from day one,” Blakenberg said. “We have one of the best (coaching staffs) in the state, even though they’re young. We trusted them 100 percent and we created a bond through that trust.

“We’re going to have a lot of focus and discipline against Stevenson. We need to skate through a lot of pain, and play a perfect if we’re going to shock the world.”