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Spartans nip Chargers in 1-0 thriller

By Tim Smith - Observer, 02/09/17, 12:00PM EST

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Eddie Edgar Arena was rocking Wednesday night thanks to a spirited rivalry boys hockey game between Livonia Churchill and Livonia Stevenson.

There were bone-crunching body checks, defensemen sliding to block shots, slick passing and one-timers galore. But great goaltending was the main ingredient of the evening, with the Chargers’ Drew Broyles and Spartans’ Will Tragge one-upping each other for the first 49:56.

The game between state-ranked squads remained 0-0 — but was far more entertaining than a scoreless game might indicate — until just over a minute remained in the third period.

Stevenson senior forward Justin Alton chipped a rebound at the net-front past Broyles. It turned out to be the lone goal in the Spartans’ 1-0 win.

Tragge, a junior, stopped all 23 Churchill chances for his fifth shutout of the season; senior Broyles turned aside 33 Stevenson shots.

“Just a line rush, we practice that a lot,” Alton said. “We connected with it. It was a great job by Kevin Stefanick. He’s a (defenseman), came up in the forward position, did a great job and it just connected. It was great.

“It was a dirty goal, for sure. Nothing was pretty in this game.”

The winning goal came shortly after the Spartans killed off a Churchill power play. Stefanick skated along the left boards into the Chargers’ end, flicked the puck into the slot and sophomore forward Logan Dunham took a shot that Broyles turned aside.

But Alton followed his teammate into the blue paint and found the mark.

“Justin Alton had some chances all game, but the kid kept going,” Stevenson head coach David Mitchell said. “I couldn’t be happier for a senior captain like Justin Alton, who has been here and put his time in. To get a goal like that, it’s a great memory for him.”

Close call

Of course, the Spartans (13-8) had another 64 seconds to protect the slim lead and were able to do so, thanks to Tragge and his defense.

Churchill senior forward John Doyle had the puck just to the right of the net and Tragge was down and out.

Doyle took a shot that Tragge managed to get part of, but the puck got away from him.

Enter senior defenseman Kyle Lynch, who sprawled along the goal line to make sure the puck did not go in.

“They really pressed in the last minute. They had a lot of good chances,” Tragge said. “Actually my teammate, Kyle Lynch, stopped it on the goal line. I got a piece of it, but it was going to roll in, so definitely a shout-out to him for making that save.”

Tragge said it was his most important shutout of the season he’s earned and noted that he ramped up his game even more when he saw the way Broyles was playing at the other end.

“Absolutely, you see him a make great save, you want to do one better, you know?” Tragge said. “(Broyles) played a hell of a game and we found a way to get one in.”

Followed the plan

Churchill head coach Jason Reynolds, whose team dropped to 13-7, gave his players high marks for the way they played against the Spartans.

“To be very honest with you, I think we did a great job of being on our game plan tonight. Obviously, this was a battle in the neutral zone, which is what we expected,” Reynolds said. “Both sides did a nice job of clogging up the neutral zone. It was a forechecking type of game. This one could have gone either way.

“They have a great goaltender who has great vision of the initial shot. I wish we would have had some more rebound opportunities in front of the net, which is something we talked about ahead of time. We came up a little short on that end, but then again, we had great goaltending at our end, too.”

Reynolds also talked about the college-like back and forth taking place in the stands. There were chants of “Spartan nation” at one end of the packed bleachers and “Lets go Chargers” at the other.

“It’s a great test for us, especially in February, as we’re a few weeks out from the postseason,” Reynolds said. “Obviously, both teams get up for this game. It’s a great atmosphere, there’s lots of noise, there’s music and the fan sections are rocking. It’s a lot of fun to play through it.

“On the flip side of that, we also like to try to get these guys focused and take their minds off things they can’t control. All this stuff is just excess noise. We just have to get back to our game plan.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, tipped his cap to the Chargers.

He also emphasized his team will need to keep working and getting after it in practice in preparation for the upcoming state tourney (which will begin in Novi for the Spartans; Churchill we play at the Trenton regional).

“I’m happy with the fact that they got rewarded with the win tonight, because the effort was there,” Mitchell said. “But we got to clean things up and just simplify our game a little bit. That’s what practices are for.”