The Saginaw Heritage H.S. hockey team managed to stay with a very talented defending champion Brighton H.S. squad for two periods, before the Bulldogs pulled away late in the third period for a 5-2 victory over the Hawks in the 2017-18 MHSAA division-1 state championship game (which featured multiple all-state players on both teams) in front of 3,421 at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, MI tonight.
Brighton (24-6-1) advanced to the finals with a 2-1 semi-final upset victory over a talented Detroit Catholic Central squad; a team, which many throughout Detroit hockey media circles had been calling, possibly the best team ever assembled in the history of Michigan high school hockey, while Heritage (21-5-3) advanced with an exciting 3-2 OT semi-final victory over Traverse City West H.S. on an OT goal by sophomore Matt Cole.
Brighton struck first, after two costly Heritage penalties led to a 5 on 3 man-advantage, creating a power play opportunity for Bulldogs' senior forward Matthew Kahra (first team all state) who scored a power play goal to give Brighton an early 1-0 lead with assists coming from sophomore forward Will Jentz (honorable mention all state) and junior defenseman Tim Erkkila (first team all state) at 9:26 of the opening period.
The Bulldogs extended the lead toward the end of the first period when Jentz scored in front of the Hawks' net on some tic-tac-toe passing from Kahra and Bulldogs' senior defenseman Sam Brennan (first team all state) for a 2-0 lead at 12:22 of the first period.
Heritage's top special teams unit (featuring 3 all state forwards) would respond after Brennan was whistled for a 2-minute tripping penalty when Hawks' junior forward David Helpap (first team all state) lit the lamp with a power play goal with assists coming from senior Brady Rappuhn (honorable mention all state) and junior Parker Severson (honorable mention all state) to cut into the Brighton lead (2-1) at 14:13 of the first period.
After a scoreless second period which seemed to favor Heritage, Brighton freshman forward Nate Przysiecki struck with an early goal just 71-seconds into the third, making it a 3-1 game with an assist from Brennan at 1:11 of the final period.
Just a few minutes following the Przysiecki goal, Heritage would answer with another special teams goal when Hawks' freshman defenseman John Michael Watson scored a power play goal from senior forward Collin Addicott to cut the Brighton lead to 3-2 at 4:33 of the third period.
Twenty-five seconds after the Hawks had killed off a penalty late in the final frame, Brighton junior forward Evan MacDonald scored an unassisted goal for a 4-2 lead at 11:53 of the final period.
With 57-seconds left in regulation, Brighton added an empty net goal from Jentz with an assist coming from Brennan to round out the scoring and take a 5-2 lead at 16:03 of the final period.
Bulldogs' junior goal tender Harrison Fleming stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in net for Brighton tonight, while Heritage junior goal tender Jack Jesko (honorable mention all state) was stellar, keeping the Hawks in the game, stopping 29 of the 32 shots he saw in between the pipes for Heritage tonight.
Heritage will be graduating just two seniors from this Division-1 state runner-up team, which paves the way for a very bright future and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Hawks right back here at the USA Hockey Arena next year, as well as the following year, for that matter.
Heritage sophomore Matt Cole scores OT game winner in Friday night's 3-2 OT semi final win over Traverse City West: