By Matt Mackinder -
PLYMOUTH – At the start of the season, Livonia Stevenson coach Dave Mitchell stressed to his team that no team in the 43-year history of the program had ever won a state championship.
Next fall, he can harp on his team to know what a repeat feels like as the Spartans topped Hartland 5-4 Saturday morning to take the MHSAA Division 2 state championship at Compuware Arena.
“This whole season, we’ve been getting these guys to go and do everything they could,” said Mitchell. “We’re more than a family and I couldn’t be happier for the Stevenson administration and the alumni and the whole Livonia community. This was the first time a Stevenson team had the chance to play in a state final and we got it done.
“This is something that is very special and something the whole community will be able to enjoy.”
As for the game, nine goals, including six in the second period, made for dramatic flow.
Travis Harvey made it 1-0 Stevenson off the draw at 4:55 of the first period on a set play from Michael Sinclair and Blake Battjes that beat Hartland goalie Nick Wineka low.
Hartland then tied it at 6:26 when Austin Flores grabbed a loose puck in the slot and went top shelf over goalie Spartans’ goalie Connor Humitz.
Just 54 seconds into the second, Chris McRae gave Hartland a 2-1 lead on an individual rush from center ice and a quick shot that beat Humitz low stick side.
Stevenson came right back at the 4:30 mark. The Eagles were unable to clear their zone and LSHS captain Dominic Lutz found the puck on his stick and went upstairs on Wineka.
Lutz tallied again at 7:07 to put the Spartans ahead 3-2.
Harvey wheeled around two Hartland defenders, then deked Wineka down and out before backhanding the puck into an empty net at 9:10.
Not to be outdone, Ned O’Boyle brought the Eagles to within one with an unassisted goal at 9:56 of the second frame.
Ray Chartier whistled a shot past Wineka from just inside the blue line at 12:48 that Wineka appeared to see and get a piece of, but simply whiffed on it.
“We’d rather not play that way (in the second) and we’d rather play more of a defensive game,” Mitchell said. “Give Hartland credit, though – they caught us and kept us in our zone. This is the state finals and I think you saw two really good hockey programs take a step forward today.”
Hartland came roaring out in the third and at the 14-second mark, McRae netted his second of the game by poking home a loose puck in the crease past Humitz.
That would be the extent of the scoring as Stevenson held on for their first crown.
“The game plan coming out was more of a commitment to defense,” said Mitchell. “They always say it, but I didn’t say it to my team, that a two-goal lead is not the best lead to have in hockey. They got that quick one on us, but we were comfortable in the situation and we shut them down (the rest of the third period).”
“I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say,” said Lutz. “It’s just great to see how it all came together. This is just unbelievable.”
Eagles’ coach Rick Gadwa, even in defeat, found a positive attitude after the game.
“Hartland is now on the map and hopefully, it’s something that stays,” Gadwa said. “It definitely wasn’t our game plan to get into a shootout, but it’s a 5-4 state championship game, the crowd’s screaming and I don’t think you can ask for any more than that.”