Hartland made a seven year climb to the top of the Michigan high school hockey world to reach its Division 2 summit.
Coach Rick Gadwa always believed, even when he played, that he’d bring a title to his community, and he did last season. He’s always believed it.
“There’s no ‘me,’ it’s ‘us,’ it’s Hartland,” Gadwa said last year. “It means everything. It’s huge. It’s just a lot of hard work. We knew we’d break through one day. We were looking for the one team here at Hartland that would buy in. Every one of these guys has a job. It’s a team that knows their roles.”
This year the climb was much shorter.
Hartland can once again call itself state champions with a 4-0 win over Trenton on Saturday morning at USA Hockey Arena.
“This is the best feeling in the world. To see this team execute the way it did through the downs of season, and resurge the way it did was special. These guys put the team on its back, and see them execute was incredible,” Gadwa said.
“When you get into these games, anything can happen. We needed to start on time because that carries us.”
From the first puck drop, to the final whistle, Hartland (27-4) controlled the pace of play out shooting the Trojans 44-13. In first period alone, the Eagles out shot Trenton 11-0 holding them without a shot for first seven minutes of the contest.
Hartland’s Owen Pietila led the Eagle charge in the first period with two quick goals that were eight seconds a part that left Trenton stunned.
“Nah, not at all. You don’t expect that. The best you can do is follow the system and execute,” he said.
Eagles senior Joey Larson battled the puck to the end line in the offensive zone. He looked up and saw Pietila crash the net, and offered the puck up for a one-timer. The pass was broken up, recovered, and fired by Pietila for a 1-0 lead with 4:16 to play in the opening period.
On the ensuing face-off, Larson won the draw and Grant Pietila surveyed the ice. Owen bailed away from the Trenton defense and circled the neutral zone and accepted the pass. Pietila raced the puck into the zone and went five-hole for a 2-0 lead.
“The coaches have a designed play for us after the face off where I bale around the wing to the middle of the ice,” Pietila described. “I got a great breakout pass, and was all alone when I walked it in.”
The second period was much of the same for Trenton (25-5-1), its offense never had the opportunity to get going.
Late in the second period, Hartland senior Benny Tervo’s fore check caused an interception deep in the Trojan zone. He quickly gathered the puck, offered a deke and fired a shot that was stopped by a sprawling Joey Cormier.
Trailing the play was sophomore Adam Pietila who crashed the net. After he mined the puck from Cormier, he pushed it into the net for a 3-0 lead.
Hartland senior Gabe Anderson got the lone power play goal of the game in the third period, and sealed the game with 4:48 to play at 4-0.
“We’re disappointed. We’re hurt. All these players put a hard work into the season. It’s a grind, all year. To get close, twice, is disappointing,” Trenton coach Chad Clements said.
The journey for Trenton was bittersweet. Last year the Trojans reached the finals for the first time in four years. Its group of seniors had a goal of coming back to USA Hockey Arena and getting the job done.
“I have eight seniors that went back to back for us, and another who joined us this year. All of them are great hockey players, but even better young men,” Clements said.
“I feel bad that I couldn’t give them just one, just one title. All of them have bright futures ahead of them.”
“Going back to back in the finals shows that we always have a team that can compete. Trenton will always bring back a team that wins every year. It’s our tradition, and we embrace it,” Captain Nik Moody added.
While five-on-five wasn’t a success for Trenton, its penalty kill was. The Trojans killed a five-on-three early in the first period and successfully killed six power plays before finally letting a power play goal in the third period.
“We were well prepared. We knew how to recover and get inside shooting lanes. We blocked shots for Joey, and when we didn’t he stood on his head,” Moody said.
Cormier, only a junior, was tested. Coach Clements believes the sky is the limit for this team whenever he in between the pipes, and believes the team has a great chance to be back next year.
“He was amazing all season, not just tonight. He’s let in only eight goals in six games. We were tested by teams, whichever ranking you use, that were some of the best division two has to offer. Despite all that, Joey was amazing and stood on his head,” he said.
“I’m confident we can win every game we play when he’s in net. He hates losing. He just loves to compete. He’s one of the reasons why we had a shot to win today.”