After spotting Livonia Churchill an early 1-0 lead Wednesday night, Livonia Stevenson’s hockey team poured on the offense like gravy on a mound of mashed potatoes.
In the rivals’ annual night-before-Thanksgiving showdown, with the Eddie Edgar Ice Arena stands packed with charged-up fans, the Spartans used a five-goal second period scoring barrage to power their 9-2 triumph.
Stevenson improved to 1-1 while the Chargers dropped to 3-1.
“We always look forward to this game a lot — night before Thanksgiving, cross-town rival, packed house,” said Stevenson defenseman Zach Finzel, who contributed a goal and an assist while also playing a key role in neutralizing Churchill leading scorers Nolan Cioch and Josh Friend. “Once they scored the first goal, we had to stay up, not panic and keep the tempo.”
The Spartans managed to do all three, scoring five straight goals after Churchill’s Tyler Haydu gave his team a 1-0 advantage 5:20 in when his back-handed shot from the left face-off circle eluded Stevenson goalie Cullen Barber’s out-stretched glove.
Stevenson carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to lamp-lighters from Ben Kowalske (from Adam Olsen and Alex Walkuski) and Shane Leonard’s power-play goal that was assisted by Alec Allen.
Spartan kunior Forward Christian Nabozny hit the post with a hard slap shot nine minutes into the contest.
“We tried to get better as the game went on,” observed Stevenson head coach David Mitchell. “I liked the way we did the things we’ve been practicing on. I give credit to our guys for continuing to stick to the game plan and doing what we’ve been working on.”
The Chargers emerged from the first intermission with fire in their eyes, throwing a flurry of shots at Barber three minutes into the period; however, the reigning “Dream Team” goalie was up to the challenge, keeping the net behind him clean with a series of instinctive saves.
Moments later, Barber was bolstered by strong defensive plays from sophomore Jake Beaune and Finzel, who extinguished a pair of dangerous break-aways by Friend and John Doyle.
Beginning with Finzel’s goal from Nick Beers at the 10:56 mark, the Spartans put a head-lock on the contest when Leonard deposited a power-play goal off helpers from Adam Olson and Nate Sudek.
Following Leonard’s goal, Churchill head coach Jason Reynolds called a time-out to help his team re-group.
Whatever Reynolds said sunk in as eight seconds after the face-off, John Doyle stole an attempted Stevenson clearing pass just inside the blue line and whistled a high, hard shot past Barber to bring the Chargers to within 4-2.
Stevenson closed out the period with a three-goal flurry — scoring on door-step tip-ins by Joe Alcantara (from Kowalske), Sam Judd (from Kyle Lynch) and Alex Siroky (from Alex Oquist) — to ramp its lead up to 7-2.
“Some nights the puck goes in and some nights it doesn’t; tonight it was going in for us,” Mitchell explained. “We put up 33 shots against Brother Rice the other night and only scored once. Tonight we scored nine against a very good goal-tender. It’s a funny game.”
Barber was spectacular mid-way through the third period when he stoned Friend on a break-away before thwarting a two-on-one break orchestrated by Nolan Cioch and Jordan Venegoni.
Stevenson extended its lead to 9-2 with late goals from Alcantara and Oquist.
“We make sure that, as a team, we always play hard to the last second,” said Finzel. “I thought we played well tonight. It’s still early, so we’re only going to get better.”