LIVONIA — No coach? No problem.
With coach Rick Gadwa unavailable due to the birth of his daughter, the Hartland hockey team went out and won itself a KLAA championship on Friday night.
The Eagles (20-2-1) downed Livonia Stevenson 4-0 thanks to a little puck luck, a couple of key goals by Luke Cowan and an outstanding performance in net by Christian Spangler, who stopped all 45 of Livonia Stevenson’s shots in a 4-0 win at Eddie Edgar Arena.
It was the first win in a KLAA title game for Hartland, which had lost to Brighton the last three years.
“Mr. Spangler was on top of his game,” said Hartland assistant coach Tom McCarthy, who ran the team in Gadwa’s absence. “He really stole the game. WE’ve talked about this, how we need goaltenders to step in and fill the void, just give us a chance. He made saves and gave us a chance.”
Spangler, a senior, was up to the task against the Spartans, who shot from seemingly everywhere inside the center line. He was helped by a defense that kept the Spartans from getting too comfortable in front of the net.
“We talked about sacrifice and commitment,” McCarthy said of his defensemen. “Little things, in games like this, make a difference, and a lot of guys did exactly that. They put themselves in the way (of shots), and took away passing lanes and took away shots.”
Coaches also talk about puck luck being critical, and the Eagles used that to score late in the first.
Freshman Gabe Anderson skated in and threw the puck at the net. The shot was stopped by Stevenson goalie Cullen Barber, but Blake Heier knocked home the rebound to give Hartland a 1-0 lead with 4:30 left in the first period.
It stayed that way until Luke Cowan scored his 27th goal or the season near the midpoint of the second period, grabbing the puck and skating parallel to the goal outside the faceoff circles before beating Barber with 9:09 left.
“It was a goal-scorer’s goal,” Stevenson coach Dave Mitchell said.
He scored again a little over two minutes later.
Josh Albring brought the puck into the Stevenson zone and shoveled it to Jacob Behnke.
“I was standing at the back door,” Cowan said. “Albring made the play to Behnke, and he made a great pass and I finished it.”
Neither coach would say the goal, which gave Hartland a 3-0 lead, was the decisive score, although Mitchell came close.
“It was a momentum swing,” he said. “As it definitely took some wind out of our sails, it put some wind into theirs. We took a penalty after that, and it was downhill from there.”
It was the first win for the Lakes Conference in the KLAA title game since Howell won in 2011.
“It feels good,” Cowan said. “A good win for the team, and it will give us some confidence.”
For Gadwa, it was a hat trick of sorts on the day before his birthday. The Eagles won the KLAA title and won 20 games in the regular season for the first time, and he became the father of a daughter.
Asked if Gadwa might be asked to stay home when the teams meet again on Wednesday, McCarthy laughed and emphatically shook his head.
“No. He’ll be welcomed back,” McCarthy said.
Stevenson, during a late Hartland penalty, pulled Barber with about three minutes to go for an extra skater, but the strategy was in vain.
Albring hit a post while aiming for the empty net and Joe Burrill was just wide before Albring scored with a second left to end the scoring.
The teams meet again in a previously scheduled game on Wednesday at Eddie Edgar Arena.
“That should be a good one, too,” Cowan said. “We can celebrate tonight, but we have to focus on Wednesday, because they’ll play even harder than tonight.”