Romeo was in its comfort zone Thursday night, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Taking on Ada Forest Hills Eastern for the second time this season — this time in the Division 2 state semifinals — both teams entered the game having never gone this far in the state hockey tournament before.
And for the second time this season, Romeo beat Forest Hills, 5-2, Thursday night at USA Hockey Arena, becoming the first of the two programs to get that elusive semifinal win. Romeo will face Livonia Stevenson — last year’s state runner-up and the 2013 state champ.
“From knowing our team, it was not a benefit to us at all (to play the regular-season game),” Romeo coach Nick Badder said. “Once we know we’ve played someone we’re kind of like, comfortable. We play good when we’re uncomfortable, when our backs are against the wall and we don’t know what to expect. We come out flying.
“It’s a little different here in the semi today, but I’ve seen us get comfortable, and that’s what happened in the second period, and that’s why they got a couple goals on us. We stopped skating.”
Romeo junior Frank Ruffino echoed the sentiment.
“I really didn’t like that we played them before, because, I mean we beat them pretty good (6-2) but I didn’t want to go in there with the mentality that it was going to be an easy game,” he said. “But at the same time, we did learn who their studs were. That helped us.”
Both teams took some time to get into an offensive groove, but when Romeo did it capitalized in short order. Senior Nick Blankenburg scored with 4:14 left in first period, followed almost immediately by the Bulldogs second goal earned by Ruffino just 34 seconds later.
In the second period, Romeo senior Blake Gabler was parked in front of the net and took a soft feed from Blankenburg from behind the goal and pushed it past the netminder with just 7:11 expired from the clock for a solid 3-0 advantage.
Josh Boverhof of Forest Hills scored at the 4:04 mark in the second with a wrist shot that went top shelf in the left corner.
“It’s pretty crazy it’s our first time in the finals, and even crazier that our football team won states this year, our volleyball team went to the state finals this year, and now we are,” Ruffino said.