The Kalamazoo Eagles and Saginaw Heritage Hawks needed three overtimes in Saturday’s Division 1 hockey quarterfinal in Brighton. After more than 112 minutes of play, Heritage’s Ethan Houck broke the deadlock for a 2-1 victory, sending the Hawks to their third consecutive state semifinal.
It was a dream season for the Eagles, who hadn’t been MHSAA tournament eligible until this year’s campaign. Despite being a relative unknown on the statewide stage, they were able to take the two-time defending Division 1 runner-up to the brink in an incredible duel.
“The lads gave everything they had and I couldn’t be more proud to be apart of this group,” said Eagles coach Jason Lindstrom. “In reflection as a coach, I’m trying to figure out what I could have done different to have the outcome in our favor today but that’s only because it’s so fresh in my mind.”
“As time goes by, and this one may take a tad longer, we will all look back and be extremely proud of this inaugural season as a MHSAA team,” added Lindstrom.
Despite both teams being high scoring throughout the season, defense and goaltending dominated the day. Unofficially, Heritage senior goalie Jacob Winters made 36 stops and Plainwell senior Huston Born stopped 38 for the Eagles.
“I saw Huey be extremely focused, determined and ready to be our rock from the start,” said Lindstrom. “Kid is a warrior in big games and today he showed the whole state that Huston Born is one of the best.”
One of the biggest saves came midway through what was ultimately a scoreless first period. During an Eagle powerplay, Hawks forward Matt Cole ended up with a shorthanded breakaway try. Born just managed to get his outstretched leg on the puck to deny the try.
“That’s when everyone really believed we could play with Saginaw Heritage and give them a run for their money,” noted Lindstrom. “Stops like that do change the whole attitude of teams and games and that was a huge eye opener that we need to step our game up to a level this group hasn’t seen this season. They did just that.”
Heritage finally broke through with 6:57 remaining in the second period. Brady Rappuhn, who finished second in points for the entire state during the regular season, gave the Hawks the lead with assists by linemates Cole and Houck.
The Eagles got their lone goal with 14:28 left in the third period, six seconds into their fifth powerplay of the night. Pennfield senior defenseman Connor Greger had a blue line blast find its way through the traffic, assisted by Garret Hoard and Trent Stoner. That would be the final goal for more than 35 minutes of play.
After trading opportunities, the Eagles came closest to winning right at the start of the third OT. A mad 15 second scramble saw multiple tries, saves, and deflections, but no goal. The Hawks held possession over the next few minutes but couldn’t score either, eventually leading to a full-ice clear from the Eagles.
Icing was waived off on a tip and both teams looked to change their lines. During the changes, John-Michael Watson found a long pass to Houck at the blue line, who had stayed on. Houck skated to the net with a breakaway and scored the game winner with 2:12 left in the third overtime.
Listen back to the game winning goal here:
The Eagles finish with a 21-8 record, more than doubling their 2018-19 win total. It was also the first time a Kalamazoo area team had made it to the quarterfinals since Portage Central did it in 2009.
They graduate seniors Greger (Pennfield), Alex Dorrance (Gull Lake), Daniel Keene (GL), Josh Fatato (GL), Chase Miller (Parchment), Cole Belanger (GL), Adam Ratliff (Harper Creek), Cody Rhodes (GL), Cullen Ward (GL), and Huston Born (Plainwell).
“That group was a huge part of the success of this program,” said Lindstrom. “Whether they had been here or decided to come back to play for us, the senior group we had this season made an enormous amount of sacrifices to be part of this very special inaugural season and there is no way I could commend or thank them enough. Those boys will always hold a special place in my hockey heart.”
Heritage improves to 25-3 and is one win away from their third straight state finals appearance. The Hawks will meet Howell in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.