Detroit Country Day had to wait a while for its first state title since 1981 before last year’s team won it over Livonia Churchill. But there was a hunger for more.
Country Day can now add to its legacy with the program’s first ever back-to-back Division 3 state titles in program history with a 4-1 over Houghton at USA Hockey Arena.
“I can’t stress it enough. It’s the Kalsos, the Connor McGinnis’ of the world. It’s guys like that with the example they set. It was always a work in progress. It doesn’t change over night,” coach Frank Novock said of the accomplishment.
“It’s the off ice progress, the work outs. It’s everything. Nothing in mandatory for them. They need to do it themselves. Our guys make it infectious.”
The hunger for another title drove guys like Sam Evola and Mickey Van Antwerp to new levels of preparation in the off-season.
The VanAntwerps have been around Country Day for years. Novock said that you could he was playing for them and the program.
“He has pride for his family who played here and for the Country Day. Mickey had points in the 20s last year, and this year he doubled it,” he said.
“He’s season doesn’t happen by luck. He was on the bike every Monday and Wednesday this year, and worked hard in the off-season.
“He’s not vocal. He’s a quiet leader who leads by example.”
The game hung in the balance to start the third period as Country Day had to kill a 5-on-3 with a one goal lead, 2-1.
“Us not cashing in on that was the biggest turning point. We had good looks, but we just missed,” Houghton coach Corey Markham said.
“We wanted to protect the house, and keep guys close and force Houghton to the outside. That way Sam could get a good look at it, and save it,” Novock added.
Sam Evola then executed a plan that only Danny Ocean, and his gang of thieves would appreciate stopping two solid point blank chances early in the third period to rob Houghton of getting back into the game.
VanAntwerp then put the game away on a Bobby Orr like flying goal immediately after the kill two minutes into the third period.
Junior Logan Gotinsky chipped the puck ahead to VanAntwerp who then moved to the crease with a single motion. He then fell over the crease of the net and still found a way to put in the 3-1 goal as he flew to the ice.
Krol added an empty net goal late in the third period for a 4-1 win.
The start of the game didn’t come easy, however.
Two minutes into the first period. Houghton (23-6-1) jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Senior Brendan Erickson intercepted the puck in the offensive zone, and quickly found fellow senior Seth Francois open. Francois fell to a knee and still had the wherewithal to fire a shot for a 1-0 lead.
“We haven’t started games well throughout the playoffs. I told the guys that we haven’t done anything. It’s been two minutes. Let’s just get back to what we do, and who we are,” Novock said.
The seniors got the message loud and clear.
Country Day held Houghton without a shot on net for the final 12:40 seconds of the first period giving the offense a chance to get a goal and tie the score.
With 1:37 left in the period, just after a power play, Lucas Krol fired a shot from just inside the point on the left side for a 1-1 tie.
The second period was more back and forth, but the YellowJackets got another goal to go in to extend the lead with 1:20. Junior Dallas Hood received a pass from senior Josh Rice. Hood fought for a space in the slot and stuck with the play and scored the puck for a 2-1 lead.
“(Winning back to back titles) both took the same amount of effort, and the same amount of work to achieve, but it feels the same as last year. It feels great,” senior goaltender Sam Evola said.
After last year’s performance, Novock said Evola was as focused as ever as they knew that he would stop most pucks thrown his way.
“He’s going to get the accolades, and the awards. And he deserves all of them. We talked throughout the year worrying about the USHL, worrying about college, and I had to remind him to live in the moment. It was all going to come,” he said.
“It’s tough for a high school kid to block out that noise. That made him more focused this year. With Sam back there you get the feeling that one or two goals is good on any night.”
Evola stopped 25 shots on goal in the championship effort.