Hartland topples Trenton in D2, finally gets its crown
PLYMOUTH — Hartland has had one of the top high school hockey programs in Michigan the past six seasons, but it lacked something all of the other elite teams had: a state championship.
That key item was checked off the to-do list when the Eagles beat perennial powerhouse Trenton, 4-2, in the MHSAA Division 2 championship game on March 10 at USA Hockey Arena.
In Rick Gadwa’s first six seasons coaching his alma mater, the Eagles won six regional championships and lost twice in the state finals, twice in the semifinals and twice in the quarterfinals.
His last two teams came agonizingly close, posting a combined record of 51-6-2, only to be eliminated in the semifinals by Livonia Stevenson in 2016 and Birmingham Brother Rice in 2017.
“There’s no ‘me,’ it’s ‘us,’ it’s Hartland,” said Gadwa, a 2003 Hartland graduate who has a 148-48-10 record. “It means everything. It’s huge. It’s just a lot of hard work. We knew we’d break through one day.
“We were looking for the one team here at Hartland that would buy in. Every one of these guys has a job. It’s a team that knows their roles.”
Hartland grabbed its first championship by denying Trenton its 15th. The Trojans won their 14th state title at Hartland’s expense in 2014, 8-3.
Many of the Hartland players were in the stands that day to see the Eagles come up short in the finals for the second year in a row. A newspaper story about that game was printed out and used as motivation during a meeting in the team hotel the night before the final.
“It’s a great storied program, the finest in public school history,” Gadwa said of Trenton. “Excellent team, well-coached. These kind of games can go any way. I thought if we got a good start, we’d be in good hands. Hats off to Trenton; it’s an awesome season. Maybe there’s some people who doubted them in the beginning.”
Something had to give in a match-up that featured one team (Trenton) that allowed only three goals in five playoff games against another (Hartland) that blew through five playoff rivals by a combined score of 44-2.
Trenton’s road to the final was considerably tougher, as the Trojans had to beat No. 6 Saline in the first round, No. 1 Livonia Stevenson in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Birmingham Brother Rice in the semifinals.
The only ranked team Hartland played before the championship game was No. 9 Ada Forest Hills Eastern in the semifinals. The Eagles won that game easily, 9-1.
“I don’t think anyone gave us much of a shot at the beginning of the year,” Trenton coach Chad Clements said. “To get here, I know all the guys wanted to win, but I was proud of their efforts. They proved a lot of people wrong this year. A couple bad mistakes by us early on, but they never quit battling. I wish it would’ve ended differently.”
Hartland never trailed during the state tournament. The Eagles led for 239 minutes, 41 seconds and were in a tie game for only 14 minutes, 57 seconds.
Trenton stayed tied with Hartland much longer than any other team, not allowing the first goal until the 10:02 mark of the first period.
Jake Behnke broke the scoreless deadlock with 6:58 left in the first when he took a pass from Joey Larson and put a shot up high while falling to the ice.
Hartland won the championship in the second period, taking control of the game with three goals in a 7:17 span.
Josh Albring scored with 9:31 left in the period, Behnke scored on a breakaway while Hartland was two men short with 3:11 left and Joey Larson made it 4-0 with 2:14 to go.
“Freight train mentality,” Behnke said. “Thinking of keeping the track going. If we stick to our system, if we do that, good things will happen. Just sticking with what we’ve done all year, and good things did happen.”
Nolan Szczepaniak and Brandon Clark had power-play goals to get Trenton within two with 2:05 left in the third period. But the Trojans couldn’t get another puck past Hartland goalie Brett Tome.
“It was hard to battle back,” Clements said. “It just kept getting harder and harder, but they stuck with it. The third period we came out and their goalie played exceptionally well. We just couldn’t get enough past him.”
Junior Tome, who beat out 2016-17 All-Stater Andrew Heuwagen for the starting job, made 27 saves for Hartland. He allowed only four goals in six playoff games, none in the first two periods.
“It’s something you dream about, and it actually comes true,” Tome said. “It’s just crazy.”
Hartland’s victory was the first of two by Livingston County teams on championship Saturday. Eight hours later, Brighton repeated as Division 1 champion with a 5-2 victory over Saginaw Heritage.
During the regular season, Hartland swept Brighton by scores of 2-1 on Jan. 30 and 4-2 on Feb. 12.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gadwa said. “A lot of those kids from those two schools grew up playing together. It’s really special seeing all this talent we have in Livingston County between Brighton, Hartland, Howell and all the rest of the schools.”
The Hartland Eagles are Kiernan Carlile, Max McIllMurray, Vlad Sarcevich, Grant Briggs, Joey Larson, Jake Behnke, Gabe Anderson,Jake Gallaher, john Druskinis, Ryan Whitton, Brenden Tulpa, Benny Turvo, Grant Pietila, David Gawronski, Josh Albring, Brett Tome, Andrew Heuwagon and Jake DeYoung.