PLYMOUTH -- Penalties doomed the Saline’s varsity ice hockey team in its 4-2 loss to Forest Hills Northern-Eastern in the Division 2 semifinal at USA Hockey Arena Thursday.
The Hornets were assessed six minor penalties, two major penalties and a 10-minute misconduct for a total of 32 penalty minutes. Forest Hills scored three powerplay goals in eight opportunities. Saline was 1-for-3 on the powerplay.
Junior Joel Brandinger scored the game-winning goal at 14:37 of the second period while Mikhail Lozovyy served a five-minute major for illegal contact to the head.
Down just one goal, the Hornets needed a penalty-free third period. Instead, the Hornets went right back into the penalty box and were forced to kill off a 5-on-3. Moments after returning to full strength, senior Dallas Klaassen was penalized with a five-minute major penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit too much tonight,” Saline coach Paul Fassbender said.
Asked if the final penalty tally was indicative of the play on the ice, Fassbender said “No comment.”
““I thought we were far better than anything they could handle 5-on-5. The heart was there. The determination (was there). The nerves got the better of us at times,” Fassbender said.
Saline managed a couple of opportunities on the penalty kill and during the last 7:50 of the game played. To Forest Hills NE’s credit, they didn’t give the officials much reason to call an even-up penalty down the stretch. The one gripe Saline might have had was when junior defenseman Brendan Murphy was hauled down as he skated in from the point for a scoring chance.
Forest Hills added an empty net goal with 34 seconds left to seal the victory and earn a trip the finals against Birmingham Brother Rice.
The Hornets started the game by taking to the Hawks. But 1:21 into the game, Brendan Murphy was assessed a penalty for holding behind the Hawks’ net.
The Saline penalty kill, so good all year, missed several chances to clear the puck. At the side of the goal Wayne Radajovitz tipped Josh Boverhoffs slapshot past Flanagan for a 1-0 lead 3:05 into the game. Less than 40 seconds later, Dallas Klaassen was called for interference. Joel Brandinger scored 48 seconds later. Saline was down 2-0 and the game wasn’t five minutes old.
“We weren’t being as aggressive as we were all year. We gave them too much time and space,” Fassbender said of the early game penalty kill struggles.
Saline got it’s first powerplay 10:43 into the period, but it was nullified 25 seconds later when Murphy was called for interference trying to prevent a forward from getting past him at the Hawks’ blueline.
Klaassen, the hero in the quarterfinal game with the dramatic game-tying and game-winning goals, got Saline on the board at 13:49 of the first period. Logan Dejanovich won the faceoff back to the left point. Klaassen fired a quick low wrist shot past the Hawks’ goalie to make it 2-1.
A little more than two minutes later, Klaassen was in the box for slashing. The penalty carried into the second period. The Hornets killed it off and went right to the powerplay. It took Saline only a few seconds to convert. Saline controlled the faceoff. Noah Helber went point-to-point to Murphy who snuck in a little bit and then fed Collin Clark to the right of the goal. Clark wired a wrist shot over the goalies shoulder to tie the game.
The Hornets were in business.
At 6:33, Saline went back to the powerplay but 33 seconds later Dejanovich was called for crosschecking in front of the Hawks’ goal.
At the 13:24 mark of the second, Mikhail Lozovyy was assessed a major penalty for making contact with the head. A little more than a minute later, Flanagan stopped a point shot but Brandinger won the battle for the rebound and jammed it home for a 3-2 lead.
Because it was a major penalty, Saline remained on the PK. The Hornets nearly scored a shorthanded goal late in the period when Dejanovich set up Helber on a two-on-one. But the pass was a split second late.
Saline was down 3-2 after the second period and began the third with Lozovyy in the box for another 1:36.
The Hornets desperately needed to kill of the major and stay out of the box. Instead, Helber was called for roughing 15 seconds into the period. Saline killed off the 5-on-3, but two minutes later, Klaassen was called for checking from behind. Saline had to kill off the major and they lost Klaassen, one of the team’s best players, for the remainder of regulation because of a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
“Losing Dallas hurt. He’s been outstanding in this playoff run. Losing a guy like him was rough,” Fassbender said.
Saline killed off the five-minute major, but now they had just 7:50 to try and score the equalizer.
“I had full confidence in our guys when we got back to 5-on-5, but we couldn’t find a way to put one in,” Fassbender said.
Pressed on the one-sided nature of the penalty calls, Fassbender noted that this Saline team has had some penalty trouble all year. He said his teams in Plymouth and Pioneer were the least-penalized teams in the league.
“I’ve always had very disciplined teams. This year, we did take a lot of penalties. We led our league in penalties this year. I don’t know why. I didn’t change much,” Fassbender said. “It’s a young team. It’s the nerves. It’s something we have to curb.”
Fassbender said he often tells officials to not be afraid to call penalties.
“Just call them all. Don’t just call the one and then let three or for go. Call them all. We practice the penalty kills and the power plays,” he said.
Fassbender credited his seniors for the leadership they showed. He pointed out that Helber, the captain, led the team in scoring as a junior. His return to the lineup this year after injury was one of the reasons why the Hornets were riding a 13-game win streak into the semifinal. Justin Flanagan emerged as a clutch goalie in his senior year after not getting much opportunity in his junior year behind the established starter. Dallas Klaassen provided mobile, physical defense and offense from the blueline. He scored three goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Helber was injured during the first game of the season. When he returned to the lineup in February, he realized something special was happening with the hockey team.
“I saw something in this team we hadn’t had the past three years. We had a lot of chemistry. Everyone had a voice on this team. Everyone worked hard,” Helber said. “Coming this far, I hope this team can keep doing this.”
Helber said he would like to continue playing hockey at the club level at the University of Michigan, like his older brother Owen did.
With Saline graduating only three seniors, Fassbender has a lot of young talent returning next year. But Fassbender isn’t assuming the Hornets can have another long post-season run.
“It’s a tough thing. They could come back and assume we’re just going to be here,” Fassbender said. “I hate to be cliché, but it starts tomorrow. It starts in the gym and carries through to the summer. It’s a grind.”