Catholic Central wins 14th state hockey championship — but it's not easy
Mar 11, 2019
PLYMOUTH — For the 14th time in school history, Novi Detroit Catholic Central won a state ice hockey championship. Out of those 14, the Shamrocks’ 3-1 victory over Saginaw Heritage on Saturday night was possibly the most nerve-wracking.
It was obvious Catholic Central (29-1-1) was outplaying Heritage throughout the game contested at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. The Shamrocks were attacking relentlessly, outshooting the Hawks by a four-to-one margin, and a first-period goal by tournament MVP Ryan Clemons had given CC a one-goal lead.
However, things were getting tense for the Shamrocks because they were unable to capitalize on their domination and pad the lead — knowing Heritage was just one shot away from tying things up. On numerous occasions, the Shamrocks fanned on shots, fired the puck wide of the net, hit the post, or were stopped by the proverbial hot goalie, Heritage’s Jack Jesko.
“It was just unlucky bounce after unlucky bounce there, but we didn’t get down or anything,” senior forward Ryan Marra said. “We just figured, 'Alright, that one didn’t go in, let’s just get the next one.' If there’s a bad bounce, you move on.”
With just more than 10 minutes to play, Marra finally got that “next one” to go in, re-directing Luke Collins’ slapshot from just inside the blue line.
“It was our approach all day,” he said. “Luke Collins just got the puck, we put some traffic in front of the net, screened the goaltender’s eyes, and got a fortunate tip and it went in.”
The tally gave Catholic Central a two-goal lead and some breathing room down the stretch.
“It was a big relief for us,” Shamrocks coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “Shots were not going in, so when he was able to bury it, I think everybody just let out a huge sigh of relief. It was one of those games where they were not going to make it easy on us. We had over 40 shots in all three games (during championship week), and you’re hitting multiple posts for some reason. It gets a little frustrating, because it’s like, ‘Man, we’re playing well,’ but nothing’s going in. You start to get a little nervous.”
Marra’s goal became even more important after Heritage (28-3-0) pulled their goalie for an extra attacker during the final two minutes. Eddie Symons put the puck into the right side of the net with 1:56 to play, cutting the Hawks’ deficit to 2-1. But Marra struck again, scoring another goal into the Hawks’ empty net with 54 seconds remaining to clinch it.
“It just wasn’t going to come easy. The pucks stopped going in, but hey, that’s part of playoff hockey. Guys knew what they needed to do and kept chipping away,” Kaleniecki said. “They blocked shots, made some big stops at our end, and we scored enough to win, and that’s all that matters.”
With its 14th state title, Catholic Central is tied with Trenton for the second-most championships. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, an associate member of the Catholic League, leads with 17. The Shamrocks fell just short the last two seasons, getting knocked out in the semi-finals last year and the finals in 2017.
Getting back to the top rung was the team’s primary goal, Marra said.
“Last year we went out (in the semifinals) against a strong Brighton team,” he said. “This year we were determined that nothing would get in our way.”
“The way things ended last year, it stung a lot,” Kaleniecki said. “This year the guys just knew — they weren’t going to let the opportunity pass them by. We had a good team, and I think the guys just made that decision in their mind that they weren’t going to let anybody stop us.”
Two other Catholic League hockey squads were one win away from playing for a state championship. In Division 2, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice fell to eventual state champion Hartland, 6-2, on Friday. Two days earlier in the quarterfinals, the Warriors (16-9-4) eked out a narrow 6-5 decision against Port Huron Northern.
In Division 3, Riverview Gabriel Richard (17-12-1) was stonewalled by Houghton, 8-0. The Pioneers’ playoff run was highlighted by a 4-3 overtime victory against league rival Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard in the quarterfinal round.