HOCKEY MAR 11, 2:18pm | Ben Szilagy
Plymouth – Birmingham Brother Rice can once again call itself Division 2 champions.
The Warriors claimed their fifth championship by defeating Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern (20-10-1), 7-0, at USA Hockey Arena on Saturday.
“This team doesn’t get the recognition they deserve. I’ve seen this group up against the best teams in the state, and our kids are second to none. This team isn’t a fluke. Every time we played top teams, we elevated our game,” first-year Brother Rice coach Kenny Chaput said.
“That what true champions do.”
Brother Rice (25-4-1) broke a scoreless tie a minute into the second period when senior Jack Reinhart offered a pass from the right circle to defensemen Jack Clement in front of the net. Clement pushed the puck through the five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
It was the second line, however, in the second that provided a spark as Chaput teamed with his assist leaders, seniors Mitch Shults and Michael McInerney, on the same line to widen the gap.
“Michael is a great player, and a real student of the game. He knows everyone’s assignment despite the lines we’re on. I play on the first line, and he plays on the second, but truly we’re interchangeable,” Mitch Shults said.
“We knew what we had to do today to win a title, and we wanted to go out and get it.”
The Warriors struck again 3:26 later when McInerney won the face-off from the left circle and passed to Shults. The 5-11 senior floated to the slot and fired a wrist shot across his body to the top shelf for a 2-0 lead.
McInerney and Shults each assisted on the power play again when Shults fired a point blank shot that caromed in front of senior Will Duncan who slammed in the rebound for a 3-0 lead.
“We have thirteen seniors, and we play three lines,” Chaput said. “Any of those nine guys we have can put the puck in the net and carry this team when called upon. That’s what makes this senior class special is their work ethic.”
Senior Ryan Hoffmann earned his fourth shutout of the season as he turned away 25 shots.
“A lot of people don’t know that Ryan didn’t start playing until the eighth grade. I’ve never seen him this dialed in until this playoff run. Especially coming into the Hartland game, and today, he never reached the amount of focus I saw,” Shults said.
“I just knew there wasn’t going to be any goals getting past him today. Absolutely no goals.”
The Brother Rice seniors did their share of the work and in the third period it was a junior, Garrett Moore, who got things going in the third. Moore intercepted the puck inside the Eastern zone and scored for a 4-0 lead.
The Warriors were shorthanded much of the final stanza as a parade of penalties was called on Brother Rice. Consecutive two-minute penalties created a 5-on-3 advantage for Eastern but the Warriors continued on the offensive.
“We always want to be the most aggressive team on the ice despite the circumstance. We would put our best guys on the ice no matter if they were forwards or defensemen,” Chaput said of his special teams play.
“Those four players out there, if given the opportunity, will always jump into the play and get things going.”
Senior Jack Reinhart intercepted the puck in the neutral zone and raced into the Eastern end, offered a deke and scored the Warriors fifth goal of the game. Alec DeLuca followed suit 32 seconds later when he scored from the left side.
Brother Rice capped its scoring barrage with a power play goal for Moore’s second of the game 7:07 left.
The Warriors graduate thirteen seniors, but will have seven players with championship experience returning to the ice next season to carry on the program's winning tradition.