BRIGHTON — After his team beat Rockford 3-0 in the opening game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Friday, Hartland coach Rick Gadwa felt confident enough to make a bold prediction.
“We are going to play the Bulldogs tomorrow,” he said, straight-faced, before breaking out into a grin. “Either way, it’s going to be an awesome game.”
As it turns out, it will be the Brighton Bulldogs the Eagles will meet in today’s championship game after Brighton held off the Bulldogs of Byron Center, 6-4, in the second semifinal at the Kensington Valley Ice House.
Rockford and Byron Center will play in the consolation game at 2 p.m., followed by Brighton and Hartland at 4:30 p.m. The championship game will be broadcast on The Livingston Post beginning at around 4:20 p.m. Click here for the link.
Hartland’s win was all about defense. Goalie Kameron Ragon had some key saves, as you’d expect, but his teammates helped immensely, blocking nearly 20 shots, according to Gadwa.
“It’s something I know a ton of teams talk about, but it’s a buy-in for the team,” he said. “No one likes to be hit by a hard piece of rubber coming at you, especially as a player without a ton of goalie gear. But we blocked a a good 19 shots tonight. And when you block shots like that, it frustrates the other team and builds momentum for your team. I was really happy for our guys and their ability to buy into that today.”
“It brought good energy into the locker room, and it carried into the next period,” said Ashton Trombley, who put the game out of reach with a late goal in the third. “We kept it rolling into the next period.”
The Eagles also displayed a flair for the dramatic: All three of their goals, one in each period, came late in the period. John Stoitsiadis scored with 2:02 left in the first period, Jorden Haydu scored unassisted with 34 seconds left in the second, and Trombley put it out of reach with a power-play goal with 33 seconds remaining.
“You play even through an entire period, and a late goal can really sink a team,” Gadwa said. “That happened to us on Wednesday. We were up 2-0 to Stevenson (Wednesday in a 4-2 loss). It really takes the wind out of your sails.”
The Bulldogs worked hard for their victory, holding off a Byron Center team that spotted Brighton a 2-0 lead, then traded goals with Brighton the rest of the way.
Byron Center was persistent to the end, replying to an empty-net goal by Brighton’s Mattix McMullen with 55 seconds left in the third period with a score 14 seconds later. Lane Petit, who had made it 4-2 with a goal late in the second period, finally put the game out of reach with an unassisted goal with three seconds left.
“We’ll take the W,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “We don’t want to give up four (goals), but it’s certainly nice to score six.”
Petit, a sophomore who played for Compuware last season, was one of three Bulldogs to score their first varsity goals, along with Nathan Daavettila and McMullen. Evan Wohlert and Nick Baker also scored for Brighton.
“They were tough, they were big,” Petit said of Byron Center. “They put shots on net. They outshot us in the first two periods, and the main goal was to get shots on net (in the third).”
Today’s matchup provides an early chance for the Bulldogs and Eagles to meet with a trophy on the line. Their KLAA matchup won’t come until mid-January.
“We’ve had some close battles,” Kivisto said of his team’s recent games with the Eagles. “I think we’ve tied the last couple times we’ve played them, but we’re not going to by tying (today).”
That’s because the championship game will have one 5-on-5 overtime, then go to 4-on-4 until a goal is scored.
“It’s going to be fun,” Petit said. “I’m looking forward to it.”