Unranked Saline stunned 5th-ranked Livonia Churchill with a 5-4 double overtime victory in the MHSAA Division 2 quarterfinal at the Dearborn Ice Skating Center Tuesday.
Dallas Klaassen scored the game-tying goal with 15.7 seconds remaining in regulation and then scored the game-winning goal in overtime to secure Saline’s first trip to the semifinals since 2006. Saline will play Ada Forest Hills Eastern at 5 p.m. at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. The winner will play Hartland or Birmingham Brother Rice in the state championship game at 10 a.m., Saturday, also at Plymouth.
Alex Birkle scored two goals and Gordie Niethammer also scored for Saline. Logan Dejanovich tallied three assists and Brendan Murphy and Noah Helber each had two assists. Justin Flanagan stopped 33 of 37 shots in goal. Flanagan stopped a 2-on-0 at the end of the first overtime period and also stopped a 2-on-0 when Churchill was trying to build on its 4-2 lead in the third period.
Klaassen said the Hornets’ confidence never wavered.
“We just kept saying, ‘It doesn’t end here. We have so much more to give,’” Klaassen said. “We’ve already achieved being the first team in 10 years to be regional champs. We don’t want it to stop there. We want to keep going. We love this team.”
The winning goal came shortly after the Hornets killed off a penalty early in the second overtime. Klaassen’s slapshot from the right point apparently deflected off Niethammer’s rear end and past the Churchill goalie. The Hornets poured off the bench to celebrate their unlikely victory.
“We practice this stuff over and over again. Move it do the D, D slides to the middle and you take the shot. I’m notorious for hitting Gordie somehow with the puck. I guess we just got a lucky bounce off his butt and it went in,” Klaassen said. “(When it went in) it was a rush of joy and so many emotions that I can’t even tell you. It’s amazing.”
The Hornets were fortunate the game made it to a second overtime. With less than a minute to go in the first overtime, a puck bounced over the last Hornet back and two chargers came screaming in on Flanagan with no defensemen back. Anticipating the pass across, Flanagan tossed his stick out to try and block it. The pass made it through, but Flanagan made a pad save on the far post to prevent a goal.
“I was a little nervous on that one but, I prevailed so…” said Flanagan, who was euphoric after the Hornet comeback victory. “It feels terrific. It’s so amazing. We played a great game out there and we’re excited to play Thursday now.”
Livonia Churchill seemed to have the Hornets on the ropes in the third period. They’d just scored to make it 4-2 and Saline sophomore defenseman Brendan Murphy was headed to the penalty box with just 7:10 remaining. But on the penalty kill, the Chargers were called for interfering with Logan Dejanovich. A moment later another Charger was in the box for tripping. The Hornets briefly had a 5-on-3 powerplay and couldn’t score. With 28 seconds left to go in the 5-on-4 powerplay and just 4:23 left in regulation, coach Paul Fassbender called timeout.
“We just talked about working the puck from high to low and getting quick shots from the point and getting everything to the net. Stop the fancy stuff and just put it on net. We have to have a guy in front and we have to get some traffic,” Fassbender said. “I think all but one of our goals was a dirty.”
13 seconds later Alex Birkle deflected Brendan Murphy’s point shot past the Churchill goalie. It was Birkle’s second goal of the game.
Saline continued to press. With about 1:20 to play, Fassbender pulled Flanagan for the extra attacker. With 1:11 to go, Saline had an offensive zone faceoff to the right of the Churchill goal. Churchill’s center won the draw back to his corner but Dejanovich and Niethammer converged on him and kept him from clearing the zone. For the next 56 seconds, Saline won every puck battle and kept sending it back to their dangerous point shots.
“Logan Dejanovich, I’ve never seen him work that hard in his life. It was an unreal shift,” Fassbender said
On the tying goal, Murphy’s point shot nearly beat the goalie. The puck was cleared to the right point, where Helber slapped a low shot on goal. The puck rebounded to Klaassen in the slot. He backhanded the puck into the upper left corner to tie the game with 15.7 seconds left.
“I told the boys before (the faceoff), ‘Listen, you guys aren’t that strong in front of the net. I’ll be in front of the net and start poking at the puck. Just get it to the net and I’ll start hammering away,’” Klaassen said. “Murph and Noah got it to the net and finally I got it to the net and put it in.”
Before the game began, few saw Saline as a threat to beat Churchill. Saline was unranked and Churchill was ranked fifth in Division 2. Churchill had also defeated Saline by a 6-0 score earlier in the season. When the game began, the ice was titled toward the Saline goal. At one point, there were eight straight faceoffs in the Saline defensive zone. But it was Saline who scored first. From behind his goal Helber rimmed a pass around the boards out to Niethammer near the red line. Niethammer chipped it past the defenseman and then caught up to hit. Speeding up the right wing, Niethammer fired a wrist shot that found a hole and the back of the cage. Saline led 1-0.
Saline didn’t enjoy the lead long. On the next shift, Saline was pinned in its own end and missed a chance to clear the puck. John Doyle deflected a point shot past Flanagan to tie the score at 1.
Saline regained the lead late in the first. With 15.2 seconds left, Churchill iced the puck. Dejanovich won the offensive zone faceoff and Birkle scored with a great wrist shot with just 10 seconds to play in the period.
Saline led 2-1 after the first period despite being outshot 12-7.
In the second period, the Chargers took advantage of a giveaway in front of the Saline goal. Flanagan made two stops, but Churchill’s Tyler Haydu scored on the third try. The game was tied at 2 less than a minute into play. Late in the third Churchill took its first lead of the game on a brilliant wraparound goal by Doyle.
A little more than five minutes into the third period the Hornets turned the puck over at neutral ice. Before the Hornet defense could get set, Michael Papalannou’s deflected shot knuckleballed on Flanagan. Conor Burnette stuffed in the loose rebound to make it 4-2.
Moments later, Flanagan made his best save of the game to keep Churchill from blowing it open. Josh Friend centered a pass across the slot to Papalannou, who one-timed a shot toward the top corner. Flanagan slide across the crease and caught the puck.
“I knew he was going to pass it right off the bat. That’s what that line was doing all night, trying to set up the one T pass,” Flanagan said. “I read it and anticipated a little bit and got it right.”
Fassbender praised Flanagan’s play.
“He made a game-saving save right there. I told him before the season started that we were riding him,” Fassbender said. “He made some big ones for us.”
Klaassen is just the latest blueline hero for the Hornets. In the regional final, Eric Wesche scored two goals and delivered a huge hit. Brendan Murphy and Noah Helber each had two assists Tuesday.
But they do more than score big goals.
“We’ve got four outstanding high school hockey defensemen. Eric and Dallas are probably the two best skaters are probably the two best skaters on the ice every time they are on the ice. I pull the aside and tell them they have to shut down every team’s top line,” Fassbender said. “They did a great job today.”
The Saline Post 3 Stars
- Dallas Klaassen – You don’t get more clutch than this senior defenseman. He scored the game-tying goalie with 15 seconds left in regulation to save the season. Then he scored the game winning-goal in double overtime. He did this while coach had him lining up against the other team’s top line.
- Justin Flanagan – Flanagan turned in another terrific playoff performance. He showed great athleticism and anticipating in making several game-saving (aka season-saving) stops.
- Gordie Niethammer-Logan Dejanovich-Alex Birkle – Birkle scored twice. Niethammer opened the scoring. Dejanovich had three assists. These guys made things happen every night and turned in a monster shift that led to the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left.