NOVI — The stage will be bigger on Thursday, but you would have been hard pressed to find someone who played bigger than Josh Albring did Tuesday night at the Novi Ice Arena.
Albring, a junior whose 72 points going into the game was double the total of Livonia Stevenson’s best player, also played a key role on defense early in the first period.
On one shift, he had four blocked shots, two of them directly in front of a screened Hartland goalie Andrew Heuwegen, and had three crunching checks deep in the Hartland zone,
“I didn’t see the puck at all in that situation,” Heuwegen said. “Josh saved the game. He blocked 2-3 shots that I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t. I didn’t see them. He saved the game in the first period and kept our team with positive energy.”
Albring did just fine on offense, too, scoring a goal and adding an assist as Hartland beat Stevenson 3-0, advancing to Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. Division 2 semifinal against Birmingham Brother Rice at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
It wasn’t all Albring, of course. Heuwagen’s presence was in doubt due to a bug that kicked in after Saturday’s game (“I felt like I’d played five periods of hockey,” he said) and gave him a fever of 102 degrees that didn’t break until Monday night.
“I woke up and felt energized and ready to play,” he said.
It was the fifth meeting between the teams. Hartland has won both regular-season meetings by shutout, the last being a 3-0 win in January.
But Stevenson had won in the postseason, a 5-4 win in the 2013 Division 2 title game and a 5-1 win in the semifinals last year.
“Words can’t put how good it feels,” Albring said of the victory. “Every year, we’ve lost to them in the playoffs. The boys felt something good about this game and we came out playing our game. We started out on time, I thought, and the puck found the back of the net.”
As for the defensive sequence in the first period, “Coach always says come out set a tone, just do what you can for the boys,” he said. “I just did not want to lose the game. It meant a lot to me.”
It was a hard-hitting, physical game that saw the first period end in a scoreless tie. Albring gave the Eagles the only goal they would need midway through the second. Jed Pietila jarred the puck loose, passed it to Gabe Anderson, who skated toward the goal, then whipped a pass to Albring, who banged it home.
“It was a great hard-work play by my teammates,” Albring said. “Jed got the puck to Gabe, Gabe found me back-door. It was an open net. It was a great play by my teammates.”
Joey Larson made it 2-0 later in the period when he knocked in a rebound, and Pietila scored in the third to put the game out of reach.
“They’re good,” Stevenson coach David Mitchell said of the Eagles. “They’re a really good hockey team and have a good goaltender. Hats off to Hartland. We have so much respect for that program. We’ve been on the winning side, so we know what it’s like. I wish them all the luck in the world going forward.”