PLYMOUTH — For 12 months, the goal remained unchanged.
For 12 months, the mission centered on one game, one opportunity, and ultimately, one win.
On March 10, those 12 months of work paid off.
And then some.
“Last year, I was crying tears of sadness,” Birmingham Brother Rice senior defenseman Chris Wilberding said moments after beating Grosse Pointe South 4-1 in the Division 2 state hockey final. “This year, it’s tears of joy.”
“It feels awesome,” senior Mackenzie MacEachern said smiling. He passed up on an offer to play juniors to return to Rice for his final year, and made the most of the weekend, scoring four goals in the semifinal and one in the title game. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Was it worth coming back?
“Oh yeah,” he boasted. “It was definitely worth it. This is one of the best feelings of my life.”
Rice rolled into the final riding a 20-0-1 streak of success, but matched up against a Grosse Pointe South team that hadn’t lost in its past 20 games either.
Senior Eric Dibble got the Warriors on the board just 1:50 into the game, but the goal seemed to relax South a bit. The Blue Devils played a lot looser down by one, and eventually evened the game with just 26 seconds remaining in the opening frame when junior Jake Corden took a perfect pass at the side of the net and buried it.
Rice took over from there, though,
The Warriors (25-4-1) outshot South 16-2 in the second period and used goals from junior Russell Cicerone and MacEachern to build a 3-1 lead. Cicerone added the final goal, an empty net tally, with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
“We came in here, and I just stressed to the guys that we had to keep doing what’s gotten us here,” said Rice coach Lou Schmidt Jr. “A lot of teams will get to this point and then tinker with their lines or their schemes, or whatever. We went out and did what’s worked for us all year. … I couldn’t be happier for these guys. The pressure to get here is so intense. To go through the battles that we did, the battles it requires. This is just awesome.”
“That was a different caliber team than we’ve seen all year,” South coach James Bufalino admitted. “I don’t think we had our best game, but Brother Rice is on a different level.”
Bufalino was quick to credit his senior goalie Christopher Schebil, who was under attack all afternoon but kept South in the game for the most part.
He finished the day with 30 saves.
“He was our best player,” Bufalino added.
The state title marks the first for Rice since 2005, and 12 months since last year’s season ended, avenges the loss to Wyandotte Roosevelt in the 2011 final.
“This is such a relief,” junior forward Thomas Ebbing said. “But the work, the focus, everything, it was so worth it.”
Follow Mike on Twitter @CandGMike.