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Detroit Country Day holds off Livonia Churchill in Division 3 final for first title since 1981

Hockey   | Jeff Dullack

Detroit Country Day holds off Livonia Churchill in Division 3 final for first title since 1981

Plymouth – Although Detroit Country Day had not played in a state championship game since 1989, the Yellowjackets looked right at home on Saturday afternoon when they met Livonia Churchill in the Division 3 state championship game at USA Hockey Arena.

Behind stellar goaltending from junior Sam Evola and timely goals from Mickey VanAntwerp and Tim Stebbing, Country Day claimed its first state title since 1981, beating Livonia Churchill, 2-1.

Country Day head coach Frank Novock said that his team, which won 22 straight games on its way to its first title in 37 years, even exceeded his own expectations for his team entering the season and praised the senior leadership the Yellowjackets had all season long.

“What an honor to coach this group, it’s a testament to these seniors,” he said. “As we said at our senior night, before the year started, my biggest doubts were us scoring goals, leadership and they far surpassed my expectations.”

With the game scoreless in the late stages of the second period as VanAntwerp outskated the Churchill defense to pick up the puck and beat the Churchill netminder to give Country Day a 1-0 lead heading into the second intermission.

Novock said that VanAntwerp’s goal was his first on a breakaway this season and also added that getting the goal at the end of the period allowed his team to relax a bit more heading into the third period.

“I think Mick was 0-for-8 on breakaways and the guys let him know about it all season, I guess he saved the best for last and what matters most,” he said. “Mick’s not the fastest guy in the world, but I think that’s the fastest I’ve seen him skate all year and that was at the end of a shift and he just outraced a guy and was going step-for-step and took a great shot. I think it let us breathe a little bit, I’m not saying we were favored to win, but we were pressing a little bit, the game was a little bit sloppy on our end at times, but I think that goal there let us take a deep breath and play a little bit more and it was huge for our psyche in between periods.”

Country Day would then add to its lead in the third period with the Yellowjackets on the power play and senior forward Tim Stebbins sent a shot through traffic as the puck found its way into the back of the net, pushing the lead to 2-0 with 10:53 left to play.

Not long after Country Day’s second goal, Churchill thought it had answered right back with a goal of its own at the 8:57 mark, but the goal was waved off as the officials ruled that the puck was batted into the net.

But less than two minutes later, Churchill would get on the board as the Chargers capitalized just eight seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage when Seth Kucharczyk scored to cut the Country Day lead in half with 7:45 left to play.

Churchill head coach Jason Reynolds said that while he was disappointed that there was no review on his team’s goal that was called off, he was pleased to see his team bounce back shortly after.

“To be very honest with you, I was under the impression that we had video replay for a reason,” he said. “I was disappointed that they didn’t use the video replay, but they took one of the official’s word. With that being said, it’s no different than any other road block we’ve been thrown into, you just have to reset, you have to continue to work hard. We were lucky to get a goal late in the third period and it gave us an opportunity to rally, so it is what it is and those are the types of plays you have to play through and stay consistent.”

In the closing minutes, Churchill would again have a couple of scoring chances, but the Chargers were turned away by the Country Day defense and Evola, who finished Saturday’s game with 30 saves.

Evola, who also came up big in the closing seconds of Country Day’s win over Hancock in Friday’s semifinal game, said that he treated the late-game situations the same and also admitted that while he doesn’t feel that he excels under pressure, he has done well in crunch time and credited his teammates playing in front of him as well.

“It was the same thing as yesterday, really,” he said. “We were up by a goal, it was the same score and I just did what I do best and just pray to God that I do what I do.”

“It doesn’t feel like it, but when I look back after the game, I guess I do. But a lot of it is like guys right here who are blocking shots out of nowhere.”