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Heritage wins in overtime, Matt Cole scores the winner as the Hawks reach first state final

Hockey   | Ben Szilagy

Heritage wins in overtime, Matt Cole scores the winner as the Hawks reach first state final

Plymouth — Saginaw Heritage sophomore Matt Cole stood alone on one of the biggest stages, in one of the biggest games of his career.

Cole drew a penalty midway through the second period, shorthanded, that resulted in a penalty shot. After the whistle blew, he skated and stayed in the middle of the ice and offered a deke only to come up short.

“It was a big opportunity. I knew they’d fight back, and we’d need that as a game-winner,” he said.

But he’d get another chance to earn a game-winner, and his opportunity for redemption came with 59 seconds into the first overtime period.

Sophomore forward Brady Rappuhn won the draw on the left circle and kicked the puck to himself. He walked the puck behind the net and tried for a wrap-around attempt that was stopped.

Cole smashed the rebound through the five hole that gave Heritage a 3-2 victory over Traverse City West on Friday at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

The Hawks, making their first state-final appearance, will play the winner of the Detroit Catholic Central-Brighton game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. for the Division 1 Michigan High School Athletic Association Hockey championship.

“These boys deserved (the win). With having only three seniors on the team, if you would have told us that we’re in the championship game, I don’t think that anyone outside of our locker room would have believed you,” Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said.

“But we believed. We had kids that have won state titles at a younger level. We’re winners, and refused to lose tonight.”

Heritage (22-4-3) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with goals by Eddie Symons and Dave Helpap, and the held the game in its grasp until the penalty shot took place in the second period.

“That turned the momentum for us for sure. If the game goes 3-0, we probably start hanging our heads. It was a huge save by Elliott (Sitkins) in a big moment and pepped our bench up,” West coach Jeremy Rintala said.

“We’ve been down in three of our five playoff games. We’ve come from behind to win, but today we could only tie it.”

The denied shorthanded opportunity quickly spun into good fortune for the Titans (17-10-3) as Evan Wilson converted on the power play with 5:13 left in the second period.

West then got a huge boost from its dynamic duo, seniors Mark Alexseykov and Zach VanAntwerp, to tie the score at 2-2 with 2:11 left in the second.

“Mark has had an outstanding season because he loves this sport. He understands this sport and all the little things about it. He had an outstanding senior year because of it. It’s been a while since we had anyone over 50 points this year, and he did that,” Rintala said.

“They both mesh well together because they like to move the puck and shoot the puck when the chance is there. They’ve been the bulk of our offense this season.”

This was only the second time in West program history that the Titans reached the semifinals. The other time was in 2010 when it lost to Howell.

The test for Saginaw becomes more of a challenge as Catholic Central and Brighton are ranked No.1 and No. 3, respectively, in Division 1, but that doesn’t faze the Hawks. They embrace it.

“We’re the underdogs. Anything can happen,” Bamberger said.