Sometimes, even the best teams just run into a terrible matchup.
For Hartland’s hockey team, Kryptonite comes in the form of Birmingham Brother Rice.
The Eagles went 25-1-1 against every other team on their schedule this season, going 4-0 against the top three teams in Division 1, but were overpowered twice by Brother Rice.
Hartland’s season ended in the state Division 2 semifinals for the second straight season with a 5-2 loss to the top-ranked Warriors Thursday night at USA Hockey Arena.
One of the top programs in Division 2 is still in search of its first state championship.
“We had a great year,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “We lost three games. … Good things happened throughout the year. We won over 20 games again; we lost only three. We won our league title for the second year in a row. We won our conference, our division. We beat Brighton twice. … Those are all big things for us as a program. On the negative side, we’ve got one — and it’s right here. This stings. It’s another year where we have a good opportunity to win the whole thing, and we don’t.”
Brother Rice beat Hartland, 4-0, on Dec. 13 at Oak Park Arena. Hartland put up a much better effort this time around, outshooting the Warriors 35-28, but couldn’t find a way to beat Rice.
“The hardest thing for us is how consistent they are,” Hartland defenseman Carter Eiden said. “We had trouble coming out starting from the beginning. It’s one of the things we’ve tried to focus on. Their consistency, their grind, their will to play, it’s hard to play against them. They’re a great team.”
Hartland preached discipline after allowing three first-period power-play goals to Brother Rice in the first meeting, but two penalties by the Eagles allowed the Warriors to take a 2-0 lead after one period on two goals by red-hot Blake Tosto.
Tosto has a nine-game goal-scoring streak, burying 13 goals over that stretch. He has 10 multiple-goal games and 30 goals.
The Warriors (24-4-1) will face Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern-Eastern in the state championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday
Hartland hadn’t allowed a goal in three postseason games, but that shutout streak ended just 2:34 into the game.
Just five seconds after a power play ended, and before Jed Pietila could get back in the play after serving a roughing minor,
Tosto squeezed one in from along the goal line off a pass from Jack Reinhart.
“It’s always nice getting that first goal,” Tosto said. “It gets the pressure off and it builds momentum.”
The Eagles regrouped and were outshooting the Warriors, 11-6, when Brenden Lipon went off for tripping. During that power play, Tosto scored from the left circle with 2:26 left in the first period to make it 2-0.
“That was pretty much our main goal for our team from the start was staying out of the box and staying physical as much as we can,” Hartland forward Josh Albring said. “Unfortunately, we took a couple penalties early. They cashed in and got momentum in the beginning.”
Hartland squandered a glorious opportunity to get back in the game during a scoreless second period when a charging penalty to Alec DeLuca gave the Eagles a five-on-three power play for 1:25. Hartland managed only two shots during the two-man advantage.
The game opened up in the third period, with each team scoring twice. Jake Gallaher got Hartland on the board at the 1:55 mark, but Jack Clement and Reinhart scored 2:29 apart to put Rice ahead, 4-1.
Jake Behnke got Hartland within 4-2 with four minutes remaining, but an empty-net goal with 1:02 left by Reinhart sealed Rice’s victory.
“The score at the end isn’t really indicative of the game it was,” Rice coach Kenny Chaput said. “They’re a good team. They came out and battled. I’m extremely proud of our guys. We’ve been locked in at the end of the season.
“Our goal is to stay up and be aggressive. We want to be right up on the offense,” he said. “We don’t want to let them generate speed. I don’t remember a lot of times where they just controlled the puck on zone entries. Our kids did a good job of keeping tight with our gaps.”
Forest Hills Northern-Eastern (20-8-2) will play in its first state championship game after beating Saline, 4-2, in the other semifinal. Northern-Eastern lost in three previous semifinal appearances to the eventual state champion, including 5-2 to Romeo last season.
“We had some pretty good wins over Trenton and some good teams on the west side of the state, so we know we can play,” Northern-Eastern coach Tom Bissett said. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got four senior leaders who have stepped up all year. We kind of had a feeling last year once we made it to the state semis that we’d be back. Just continuing to build our program and put Forest Hills Northern-Eastern on the map.”