HARTLAND — Things went back to normal in the KLAA championship game on Saturday.
It was Brighton against Hartland, and it was a one-goal game, as opposed to last year’s 4-0 Hartland victory over Livonia Stevenson.
But, unlike the previous four meetings between the Eagles and Bulldogs in the playoffs, it was Hartland that came out on top in a 4-3 decision at the Hartland Sports Center.
“You look at the score, and it tells the story,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “It’s another one-goal game between Brighton and Hartland, and they went back and forth, constantly. One extra mistake by them, and that’s it.”
The score, however, doesn’t reflect the emotion, the intensity, or the decibel level from the capacity crowd at the Hartland Sports Center.
“They’re fun to play in, but they’re tough to lose,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “We have to handle that.”
Afterward, both teams turned their attention to next week’s regular-season finales. Hartland (22-2) is home against Salem, while Brighton (18-5-1) plays host to Birmingham Brother Rice.
“It’s a game (Salem) that really means nothing, but to me means everything,” Gadwa said. “Do you want to go into the playoffs not rolling? You want to sharpen everything up in that last game.”
“What’s next is how we deal with the fact we lost a tough game,” Moggach said. “But that’s adversity. What I told them before the game is the team that handles adversity the best will win the game. I think (Hartland) did a better job than we did.”
It was Brighton that got the early advantage, when Will Jentz banged home a rebound of a shot by Wyatt Harmon a little over two minutes into the game. Lars Storm tied it for Hartland near the midpoint of the period, and the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
The rest of the scoring came in the second. Sam Brennan scored his first goal of the season to give Brighton a 2-1 lead early, but the Eagles took the momentum back by scoring the next two, one by Josh Albring and the second by Jed Pietila.
“I just kind of cut across and took a quick shot,” said Pietila, who was out of the first meeting of the season due to injury. “It happened to over (Brighton goalie Logan Neaton’s) glove. Put pucks on the net, is what we were preaching, and it worked out.”
Albring and Pietila are Hartland’s leading scorers, and it was the type of play Gadwa told his team he wanted to see in a pregame speech.
“I told them big-time players make big-time plays in big games,” he said. “That was an instance where Jed put the team on his back and he sniped one for the guys.”
“We had our chances to that point,” Moggach said. “We were giving up too many goals to that point, but the third goal kind of turned it.”
Brennan scored again to tie the game, but Jake Gallaher scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 3:16 left in the second.
The Bulldogs had opportunities in the third, including a 5-on-3 for 1:10 late in the period, but couldn’t convert.
“We had chances on the power play, but we had better opportunities when we pulled (Neaton) at the end,” Moggach said.
While Moggach gave Brennan credit for keeping the Bulldogs in the game offensively, Brennan attempted to shoulder the blame on defense.
“It was all right,” he said of scoring two goals, “but I focus on playing defense. I would rather have a game where I played good defense than score a couple of goals, which is the opposite of what happened today. Just a lot of defensive breakdowns, mostly by myself. I take a lot of responsibility for that.”
Both teams figure to make deep runs in their respective divisions, but Pietila savored the victory afterward.
“It was exciting,” he said. “The place was packed. It was fun to play against the relatives who grew up watching Brighton. It’s always fun to play against them. Bragging rights are huge.”