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March 11, 2014

Consecutive title hopes for Cranes come to close in hard-fought loss in quarters

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Consecutive title hopes for Cranes come to close in hard-fought loss in quarters
Cranbrook’s Austin Alger (18) tries to get the puck on net against Farmington. As part of the Cranes’ top line, Alger finished the season with 22 goals and 28 assists. For more photos from game, visit our website at www.candgnews.com.

FARMINGTON HILLS — In the marathon that was the regular season, this was the best team in the state — hands down.

A collection of skill, speed, power and finesse up front proved to be deadly for opposing netminders, while their strength and discipline on the defensive end shut down some of the highest-ranked teams in all three divisions.

But in the sprint that is the playoffs, there’s always the prospect of having an off night or catching someone else at their best.

For the Cranbrook hockey team, this was exactly the case March 4 in a quarterfinal game with Farmington High.

After rolling to a pair of regional wins by a 12-1 combined score, Cranbrook entered the Farmington Hills Ice Arena three wins shy of defending its state title.

And the Cranes played like it.

From the opening faceoff on, they controlled the game.

Defensively, they surrendered hardly anything.

Offensively, they took aim, unleashing a flurry of shots from just about everywhere on the ice.

The one problem was John Lethemon.

The Farmington goalie had a career night, making 59 saves in what turned into a 3-2 Farmington victory.

“We did everything but score,” coach Andy Weidenbach said of his No. 1-ranked team that outshot Farmington 62-15. “We played good enough to win, but their goaltender was phenomenal. … Anything he could see, he stopped.”

Farmington scored first in the game, but Chris Brown tied things at 1-1 when his screened shot found the back of the net late in the first period on a power play.

Johnny Wagner put the Cranes up 2-1 five minutes into the second on a blast from the blue line that Lethemon never saw.

With the lead, and the momentum, the Cranes pressure increased tenfold.

But they were unable to get another one past Lethemon, and Farmington notched the game’s final two goals, the third with just 6:31 to play.

“That’s the thing about the playoffs, anything can happen,” Weidenbach added. Cranbrook hit five posts in the loss, including a crossbar in the final seconds. “It happened to us two years ago against Marysville, when you run into a hot goalie, this can happen.”

Asked if the season was still successful, despite falling short of Compuware, Weidenbach said simply, “Yes. It’s disappointing right now, but these guys did a lot of good things.”

The Cranes end the winter with a 26-2-0 record, one year after winning 28 games and a D-3 title.

Playing in the deepest and most talented league, the Cranes rolled to an MIHL North Division title with a 12-1-0 mark.

The Cranes started the year 18-0-0, losing their first game on Feb. 1.

They also featured one of, if not the, deadliest top lines the state has seen in years.

The trio of Brown, Sam Miletic and Austin Alger entered the quarterfinal having combined for 83 goals and 211 points in 27 games.

The stats would have been even more dramatic had Alger not missed eight games with a shoulder injury.

Still, come playoff time, anything can happen.

The Cranes learned this two years ago in a stunning loss to Marysville and again last week to Farmington.

The Marysville loss inspired last year’s team to a 28-2-1 record and trophy at the end.

Next year’s squad will have the same motivation, the same challenge, and 17 varsity veterans back in the mix with a chip on their shoulders.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.