HARTLAND — It was, the teams agreed, an instant classic.
Certainly it was for Hartland’s Brenden Tulpa, who scored the winning goal with 20.8 seconds left in overtime as the Eagles downed Brighton 3-2 in a matchup of No. 1s.
“It’s unreal,” the sophomore said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.”
Tulpa had scored the game-tying goal early in the third period for the Eagles, who improved to 5-0 on the season.
“We’ve been waiting for Brendan to break out,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “But what I loved about it was this: You have a skilled player who’s getting dirty (goals) in front of the net, and those are the hard areas to play in. It’s just a buy-in factor, and that’s what we look for. That’s why he scored that goal.”
In most matchups, Brighton (3-1) exhibits a steely resolve to go with its talent. But the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome the disappointment of a goal that was waved off midway through the second period that would have given Brighton a 3-0 lead.
“The ref said he lost sight of it,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “He said he blew the whistle to protect the goalie.But the puck hit the goalie’s chest and went into the net, bam-bam. I don’t think you can blow a whistle that fast.”
The Brighton bench howled, and Jake Crespi let his feelings be known with words to the referee that earned him a penalty and a misconduct.
“We weren’t the same team after that,” Moggach said. “That was the lesson for us. We had momentum, but when things started to go the other way, we didn’t deal with it. That was our lesson.”
The play game 10 seconds after Keith Wikman had given Brighton a 2-0 lead with 6:46 left in the second period.
“Throughout the game we had to overcome adversity,” Brighton’s Will Mossett said. “It was wearing on everyone toward the end. IT’s something we have to definitely work on.
At about that point, Hartland’s Josh Albring began to assert himself.
“He’s one of those kids who gets stronger as the game goes on,” Gadwa said. “He gets more into it and he gets a little more angry and starts to play well.”
He had assists on the next two goals, one by Jake Gallaher with 90 seconds left in the third period and Tulpa’s first goal less than a minute into the third.
Meanwhile, Hartland goalie Brett Tome, like Tulpa a sophomore, stood tall in net, frustrating the Bulldogs time and time again and blanking them in the third period and in overtime.
The winning goal came when Jake Behnke took a pass from Zach Sexton to the left of Brighton goalie Logan Neaton. Behnke shot it at the net as Tulpa was approaching from the other side.
“I saw the puck coming,” Tulpa said, “put my stick out there, shut my eyes, and luckily it hit my stick.”
The whole experience was exhilarating for Tulpa, in his first year on the varsity.
“I never played before that many people in Triple A,” he said of the Hartland Sports Center crowd, which filled the stands and occupied every available inch along the ice. “I was shaking. I was so nervous in warmups, but after the first shift it kind of calmed me down.”
Moggach was still angry about the call after the game, but made sure to give Hartland its due.
“Hartland was the better team tonight,” he said. “Not just because they got the last goal. They dominated us at times. I think what happened in our heads impacted the game more.”
“A big game like that, you can build off,” Gadwa said. “Even if we’d lost, we were going to build off of it. But it’s always more fun to be on the winning side.”
And it’s the kind of game that sold Tulpa on his switch from travel to high school hockey.
“I never in my life enjoyed hockey more in my life than when I (decided) to play high school,” he said. “Never been happier with my switch.”