The Father Gabriel Richard/Greenhills hockey team came into Tuesday night’s showdown with Chelsea the true definition of an underdog. The Irish had just 15 players in uniform, only one senior on the roster, a first-year high school coach and a lineup with very little playoff hockey experience.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a history of making long runs in the state playoffs, are coached by Don Wright, one of the most successful high school coaches in the state, have plenty of playoff experience and get to play on their home ice using their home locker room in front of their home crowd.
It all stacked up to a mismatch. And while Chelsea (18-6-1) still won the game – the headline already told you that – the Irish looked like the dominant team and made the Bulldogs earn this first-round victory. FGR/Greenhills finished the season at 11-12-2 while Chelsea advances to play Dexter on Thursday in Chelsea.
“I think in many ways we were victorious,” said FGR/Greenhills Coach Anthony Lietz. “I hate using the excuse that we only had one senior, we only have 15 guys, and the list could go on and on. We have to go out every night and give our best and sometimes your best may be a 3-2 loss and sometimes it may be a big 9-2 win or somewhere in between.”
This time it was a 3-2 loss but the Irish certainly gave it their best effort. Chelsea took a 3-0 lead in the first period but the Irish came back with a goal in the second and another one in third but just couldn’t get the equalizer. They were disappointed with the outcome but certainly not the effort.
“We had a lot of opportunities but we just couldn’t find the back of the net,” said junior Aidan Brewer, the team’s leading scorer. “I’m very proud of our effort. We hit the post a few times and their goalie was really good.”
Lietz also was proud of how his team played in a state playoff game against a perennial state powerhouse.
“It’s fair to say that we’ve been through some things season, but every time we get knocked down we’ve gotten right back up and we kept rolling,” he said. “It’s hard to be mad after a game like tonight when a couple bounces go one way for a team and not for yours.”
Chelsea’s goalie had a great game and there were a few times that Brewer, Matt Granzotto, Vincent Vermeulen and Owen Marks were on the doorstep but just couldn’t get the puck in the net. A hot goalie in the playoffs – at any level – can make all the difference in the outcome.
“Championship hockey and especially high school hockey where it’s one and done you have to want to be out there,” Lietz said. “During the last minute of the second period and a majority of the third we were all over Chelsea, and to do that in their rink says a lot about my boys.
“Tonight I walk away as a coach who received a 3-2 loss on the score sheet, but as a coach in the grand scheme of life I walked out of that rink tonight as a very proud hockey coach.”
Lietz thanked all his parent volunteers and assistant coaches James Stevenson and Austin Cole and goaltending coach Karel Popper along with athletic trainers Jesse Johnson and Megan Mahoney. Other shout outs went to Tom Vandagriff and Chris Putlock for their filming and video contributions.
To watch highlights of the game, check out Chris Putlock’s video here: https://vimeo.com/257585387
Main photo by Michelle Groe