PLYMOUTH — A half hour after Hartland’s hockey team had been eliminated with a 5-2 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice, junior Josh Albring was talking about coach Rick Gadwa.
Albring, a Mr. Hockey candidate, said he came back for his junior season because of Gadwa.
“He’s taken teams to the championship when there wasn’t much skill, but they bought into his system,” he said. “I mean, you look at our season. It looks like a good season, but it feels bad, because we failed him. I mean, we –”
Gadwa cut him off.
“You didn’t fail me, Josh,” Gadwa said, firmly but gently. “It’s a game. It comes down to one game here. Failure’s an easy word to throw out, and in this game we did. But you guys didn’t fail me. We take the good out of this. WE had a great year, and the year before as well. We take that good and it moves us on. It makes us better people.”
The Eagles (25-3-1) never got untracked against the Warriors, who had beaten them 4-0 back in December.
A penalty 30 seconds into the game knocked them out of sync, and a penalty late in the period led to a power play goal that effectively put the game out of reach.
That was due to a tenacious Brother Rice defense, which rarely allowed the Eagles any room inside the blue line, and goalie Ryan Hoffman, who stymied Hartland time and time again.
“The hardest thing is how consistent they are,” senior co-captain Carter Eiden said. “We had trouble coming out of the start. But Brother Rices’ consistency and drive and willingness to get pucks down low. It’s hard to play against them. They’re a great team.”
Jake Gallaher made it 2-1 less than two minutes into the second period, but Brother Rice answered with a goal from John Clement and never looked back.
Jake Behkne scored with exactly four minutes remaining to give the Eagles hope, but an empty-net goal by Brother Rice’s Jack Reinhart with 1:02 remaining all but ended it.
“It comes down to bounces and small windows of opportunity,” Gadwa said. “But you fail a lot in hockey and sometimes the team that fails the least is the team that wins. We failed a little bit more.”
Brother Rice will play Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern-Northern for the Division 2 title at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Hartland, which reached the semifinals for the fifth time in six years, ended a two year stretch which saw the Eagles go 49-5-2, but without the prize it sought.
“No regrets,” Eiden said. “No regrets at all. Hands down, it’s the funnest year of hockey I’ve ever played. I wish I’d come out as a freshman.
“It’s fun to play for your school, and playing with people like Josh and Jed (Pietila), and trying to band everyone together, it’s a different feeling. I don’t regret anything.”
“We had a great year,” Gadwa said. “We won over 20 games again. We won our league title for the second year in a row. We won our conference, our division (titles). We beat Brighton twice. Those are all big things for us as a program.
“On the negative side, I got one, and it’s right here,” he added. “It stings, and it’s another year where we have a chance to win the whole hting, and we don’t. Besides that, it’s a pleasure with (the team) every day. You don’t coach a high school hockey team unless you love it, and you gotta love them and the game, and that’s why I do it.:
He then turned to Eiden and Albring, sitting to his left at a table inside a room beneath the stands at USA Hockey Arena.
“Thank you, guys,” he said.
“I’ll remember this ending for a while,” Eiden said. “But it’s been an amazing year. Everyone here worked their butts off day after day, six days a week. Unfortunately, we came up short.”