Liggett hockey caps brilliant season with Division 3 crown

By: Mike Moore | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 14, 2012

 Liggett junior Mark Evan Auk slams on the breaks in front of the Houghton net. The Knights applied constant pressure on the Gremlins, outshooting them 33-17 in the 3-0 win.

Liggett junior Mark Evan Auk slams on the breaks in front of the Houghton net. The Knights applied constant pressure on the Gremlins, outshooting them 33-17 in the 3-0 win.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

PLYMOUTH — The impossible had now presented itself in a bright light of reality, a chorus of a countdown ringing out from the crowd, marking the final seconds of what would change a great season into that of legendary status.

Starting with “10,” and then “nine,” followed by “eight” and then “seven,” all the way down to the final horn of improbability.

This was the Division 3 hockey final, and in game annually reserved for the likes of Cranbrook or Calumet, or Grand Rapids Catholic Central, here was the Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett fan base erupting.

Here was coach Robb McIntyre, hired four years ago to make a fledging hockey program respectable again, hugging his assistants in disbelief.

And here, in the near corner of the rink, was a pile of players, many still too young to drive, who defied every odd tossed their way, only to emerge as best hockey team in the state.

Yes, a stage annually reserved for the more traditional hockey powers, now stood occupied by those in red, white and blue.

“I don’t think what we’ve done here has even set in yet,” junior Jacob Soyka said after Liggett beat Houghton High 3-0 in the March 10 final at Compuware Arena. Soyka scored the game’s third and final goal midway through the third period to secure the win, while his younger brother, Lucas, turned away all 17 shots fired his way to preserve the shutout.

“Since my freshman year, we’ve lost to Cranbrook every time in the playoffs, but I’ve dreamed of doing something like this. We’ve gotten better and better every year leading up to this, but it still hasn’t set in. This is huge.”

“It’s weird,” McIntyre said smiling. “I’ve won state titles and things at the travel level, but now it’s like, we did it at the high school level. It’s awesome.”

McIntyre said when he was hired four years ago, he was asked if he felt he could deliver a state championship within a five-season span.

“I kind of laughed, but they were serious,” he said.

His first year, the Knights went 9-16, playing what he called a “very weak schedule.”

The following year, a few more players came out and a few more wins were had.

In the third year, the wins came more frequently.

This year, it’s all that was expected.

“We continued to get better and better as the year went on,” McIntyre said of the season, which ended with a 27-3-0 mark and included an 18-game winning streak. “I think the guys figured things out as we played more together. They realized their roles and who had to do what to be successful.”

“We were a tough team to play against,” Jacob Soyka said. “I think our speed was something that gave a lot of teams trouble.”

Rolling through the regular season the way the Knights did was one thing, but when the postseason began, their play went to a new level.

In five wins leading up to the final, they outscored their opponents by a combined 38-5 score.

While McIntyre said the Houghton win wasn’t the best game all season, it was enough,

Liggett outshot the Gremlins 33-17 on the afternoon, including an 11-6 clip in the second period where James Counsman scored twice to break a scoreless tie.

Houghton threw its best at Liggett in the final period, but in reality, it was just 15 minutes of hockey separating the Knights from their first state title in 22 years.

And the scary part, this may just be the beginning.

Of its 19-player roster, only five are set to graduate. The other 14 players consist of four juniors, six sophomores and four freshmen.

“This program is certainly on the right track,” McIntyre said. “We expect to be back here. I mean, I think we’re still fighting for legitimacy, but this season should go a long way in helping that.”