Following an exciting weekend of games at USA Hockey Arena, three Michigan teams were crowned State Champions in the finale of the 2017-18 season. In Division-I, Brighton won its second consecutive title--and fourth in seven seasons--while fellow KLAA school, Hartland, claimed its first Division-II championship in school history and Detroit Country Day capped off an impressive winning streak on Saturday to complete its run to a Division-III championship.
Hartland defeated Trenton 4-2 in the D-II championship to begin the day of action on Saturday. Coach Rick Gadwa had led the Eagles to the State Quarterfinals and beyond six times during his tenure, finally breaking through and claiming their first State Title thanks in large part to a dominant offensive attack that had five players with 10-or-more goals (Jake Behnke, 32, Joey Larson, 28, Brendan Tulpa, 15, Gabe Anderson, 12, and Josh Albring, 10). The Eagles’ state championship run consisted of a Regional playoff in which they outscored their opponents 29-0, beat Midland Dow 6-1 in the Quarterfinal and mercied Forest Hills Northern-Eastern 9-1 in the Semifinal, before topping Trenton in the Title game.
Detroit Country Day continued the action by winning its 22nd consecutive game of the season with a 2-1 victory over Livonia Churchill in the D-III final. One of the youngest teams in the state, Country Day’s roster comprised of four freshmen, eight sophomores, seven juniors and just six seniors. Led by junior goaltender Sam Evola, the Yellowjackets surrendered just 35 goals in 31 games, which unofficially ties an MI-HS record for the lowest goals-against average by a team at 1.13 for a season. Goaltending and sound defense were the key to DCD’s success as all three of their games at the state tournament were decided by one goal -- 3-2 over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 2-1 over Hancock in the Semifinal and 2-1 over Livonia Churchill in the Championship.
The D-I Championship served as the finale of the weekend and marked the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. Brighton came into the tournament as reigning D-I champs from a season ago and they successfully defended that title by knocking off Saginaw Heritage 5-2 in the championship game, marking the second time in a decade that they have won back-to-back state titles. Led by two NCAA commits, Adam Conquest (Bowling Green) and Sam Brennan (Air Force), the Bulldogs went 15-2-0 down the stretch and held the opponent to one goal or less in nine of those games. Brighton upset the higher-ranked Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in its Regional Final 3-1, and continued its run with another upset over top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central 2-1 in the Semifinal game. It marked the first time all season that DCC lost to an in-state school, as the Bulldogs advanced to the title game for a third consecutive season.
This year’s champions offered a first-timer, an incredible winning streak and a successful title defense. With the conclusion of the season, MI-HS hockey graduates an impressive crop of seniors and moves toward continuing the growth and development of the sports and its players.
(Photos courtesy of Andrew Knapick and Michael Caples/MiHockeyNow)