hey've earned the right to “Sparty On” as Stevenson did what no other Livonia prep hockey team has done in 43 years on Saturday — win a coveted state championship.
The Spartans are the newly crowned MHSAA's Division 2 champions by virtue of their 5-4 victory at Plymouth's Compuware Arena against fellow Kensington Lakes Activities Association member Hartland.
Stevenson, getting a pair of goals each from senior defenseman Travis Harvey and star junior forward Dominic Lutz, survived a wild second period that featured six goals to hoist the state championship trophy.
“You have to do it to feel it,” Harvey said. “I'm speechless right now.”
For Lutz, who notched his 42nd and 43rd goals of the season, it was a surreal moment.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “A lot of my teammates have been playing together for years and it just means a ton to me and it's great accomplish this. We've worked so hard and it's great to be rewarded. It was a great team win.”
It was 1-1 after one period as Harvey scored from Mick Sinclair and Blake Battjes at 4:55, but Hartland's Austin Flores countered when he beat Spartan goaltender Connor Humitz in the upper right corner from Chris McRae and John Nagel.
McRae then scored unassisted at 54 seconds of the second period to give the Eagles a momentary 2-1 advantage, but Stevenson answered with three straight goals.
Lutz connected for two in a row, one unassisted at 4:30 and the second from Jake Kierdorf at 7:07 followed by Harvey's second of the game from Ray Chartier at 9:10 to make it 4-2.
“In this kind of game you try and pick your corners, but in the end you've just got to get good shots on net,” Lutz said. “My second goal … I just threw it at the net and it deflected off someone and got in. I shoot pucks all the time, but once it comes down it, you've got to just put it on net and make it's on the goal and not wide.”
Lutz's first goal, however, was a beauty as he took a pass from Kierdorf between the circles and ripped a shot by Hartland netminder Nick Wineka.
“That time I had no pressure and was able to place it where I wanted,” Lutz said. “My slap shot takes more time, but my wrist shot I think I'm way more accurate with it. And it just seems to work for me.”
Hartland's Ned O'Boyle, however, made it a one-goal game again with an unassisted effort at 9:56 of the second.
But Chartier's drive from the left point was redirected off an Eagle player to put Stevenson back on top by two again, 5-3, at 12:48.
“We would rather not play that way,” Stevenson coach David Mitchell said. “We'd rather play a little more defensive and shut things down, but these guys next to me — when they see opportunities — they tend to go. We saw some opportunities and took some, but give Hartland credit in the world because once we started looking for goals, they caught us. They turned around and buried some of their own.”
Although Stevenson held a 40-29 shots on goal advantage, it was no piece of cake as Hartland (19-9-2) made things interesting just 14 seconds into the third period when Chris McRae notched his second goal of the game to cut the deficit to 5-4.
The Spartans' intention was to clamp down defensively entering the third.
“That was the game plan coming out, but they (Hartland) kind of changed our game plan a little bit because they got that early goal,” Mitchell said. “Everybody says that two-goal lead is not the best to have in hockey.
“They (Hartland) do a very good job of moving the puck and creating opportunities. We knew this coming in. We knew it was going to be a hockey game and it was. I think was a little more entertaining than we would have liked, but good entertaining hockey game.”
Ironically, McRae's second goal was the last of the game as the Spartans were able to fend off the Eagles, who were also making their first-ever state finals appearance.
After fighting off a Stevenson power play, Hartland made one last-ditch effort in an attempt to tie the game. The Eagles called timeout with 2:21 left and pulled Wineka for the extra attacker in the final minute, but couldn't tally the equalizer.
“They forechecked hard and we just got puck deep, get it out,” Harvey said. “Mitchell just tells us get puck out, glass it because no one is going to be us on offense. We committed to block shots, take it, play over the pain and it was going to be worth it all in the end.”
Stevenson held a 12-9 shot advantage in the final period.
“It definitely wasn't in the game plan to get in a shootout with them,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “But it's a 5-4 championship game, the crowd is screaming, you can't ask for a better game, I don't think.
“That was typical Hartland right there. A lot of games we'd fall behind and have to battle back. Sometimes we finished on top and sometimes we didn't. You talk about matching lines — our top line matched their top line. They went goal-for-goal. At the end it comes down to a bounce here and there and they (Stevenson) finished with the last good bounce. It was a solid effort both ways.”
In the Spartans' six-game run to the title, the 3-2 double-overtime quarterfinal victory over Ann Arbor Pioneer may have been the defining moment.
“We got pressured by a good Ann Arbor Pioneer team so we were comfortable in this situation,” Mitchell said. “Whereas last time we weren't as comfortable. The team learns and they learned today. We stayed relaxed, we stayed calm and we had a lot of chances to get that sixth goal. We didn't get it, but we hung on.”
For Stevenson, it was a jubilant post-game celebration as players and coaches mobbed each other.
And afterward, Mitchell was still beaming during the postgame press conference.
“It's been a process for us all year,” the Stevenson coach said. “We're a family and better than that, we're more than a family, and I couldn't be happier for the Stevenson administration and the alumni, and the whole Livonia community.”
Tag(s): Livonia Stevenson