Saline avenged an early season loss and defeated Skyline 6-2 to win the regional championship Saturday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube Saturday night.
It was Saline’s first regional championship since 2010. Saline faces Livonia Churchill in the quarterfinal at 7 p.m., Tuesday, at the Dearborn Ice Skating Center.
Defenseman Eric Wesche scored two goals for Saline. Also scoring was Brendan Murphy, Alex Birkle, Logan Dejanovich and Mikail Lozovyy.
Winning the regional trophy was a longtime coming for captain Noah Helber, who has played varsity since his freshman year.
“I means the world. Playing with my brother for a couple years we never could get it. We lost to Novi a couple years ago (in the regional final). It means the world to do it with this team and something special is happening,” Helber said, who’s looking forward to the quarterfinal. “I played with a couple of the Churchill guys last summer and it’s going to be sweet. I know we can put up a good fight against them.”
Saline lost 6-0 when the two teams played earlier this year.
The game didn’t start Saline’s way. Seconds into the game, Skyline took the lead when a seemingly harmless shot toward the corner was deflected past Justin Flanagan (who stopped 22 of 24 shots).
Coach Paul Fassbender said it wasn’t the start Saline wanted, but his team handled the early adversity.
“We just tried to stay positive and stay focused. I had full confidence in this team from the drop of the puck. So it was only one goal. I knew we would score some goals,” Fassbender said.
Down 1-0, Skyline went to the powerplay. While on the attack, Saline was penalized again. Flanagan and the PK unit kept the Eagles at bay during the 5-on-3.
Saline got the equalizer midway through the period. An Eagles forward carried the puck up the left wing. Wesche stepped into him and he fell like a sack of potatoes. The puck cycled around the boards and Saline skated up the left wing. From behind the net, Tom Raupp centered the puck. Big Mikhail Lozovyy chipped the puck past the goalie to tie the game.
“When you can make a big hit and create a turnover like that everyone on the bench gets excited. Everyone gets the blood pumping,” Fassbender said.
As the period went on, Saline tilted the ice toward Skyline’s net. Noah Helber nearly stuffed one in the short side after an end-to-end rush. Gordie Niethammer sprung Logan Dejanovich loose for a breakaway that was foiled by a well-timed hack to the hands. Still, Flanagan had to be sharp, especially late when the Hornets coughed up the puck in front of their goal.
At the end of the first period, the score was tied at 1.
In the second period, the Hornet powerplay went to work.
Saline took a 2-1 lead when Eric Wesche scored from the right point.
“I was just trying to get the puck to the net. I saw a screen there. I didn’t know if the goalie would be able to see the puck so I just fired it at the net,” Wesche said.
Saline took over the game on a five-minute major penalty.
First, Murphy and Helber took turns playing catch and firing shots on goal from the points. The puck rimmed around the Murphy again. He stepped around one penalty killer and then zipped a wrist shot into the goal to make it 3-1. Because it was a major penalty, Saline remained on the power play. This time it was Wesche stepping in from the point and firing it past the goalie.
Coach Fassbender was glad to see goals coming from his blueliners.
“All we did in practice yesterday is work on offensive zone. We worked on moving the puck low to high and providing support. It paid off. It really worked,” Fassbender said.
After the penalty expired Saline continued to attack. Gordie Niethammer came speeding over the blueline. He dished over to Alex Birkle on the right wing as the defenseman hit Niethammer. Birkle beat the goalie with a wristshot from the circle. Saline led 5-1.
The Hornets added another goal in the third period when Dejanovich, from a rough angle, fired a wrist shot over the goalie and in.
Skyline added a goal late in the third period.
Saline now focuses its attention on Livonia-Churchill. The Hornets lost 6-0 the last time these teams played. They know it won’t be an easy task.
“They beat us 6-0. They’re a top five team in the state. It’s going to be a tough one, but all you need is a break,” Fassbender said.
The Saline Post 3 Stars
- Eric Wesche – 2 goals, a big hit, and great defense.
- Brendan Murphy – A heavy shot for a goal and several heavy hits.
- Justin Flanagan – Stopped 22 of 24 shots. Kept Saline in the game early when they weren’t moving their skates.