A year ago, they clawed through three overtimes before the decisive goal finally found the back of the net.
And with that, girls on the Farmington Hills Mercy hockey team were left stunned and heartbroken at how close they had come to a state title.
Yet they were watching another team celebrate a championship that was theirs for the taking.
Not this time.
“They didn’t want overtime this year,” coach Brandon Malinowski said with a laugh. “When the game got tied, you could see our girls get angry.”
Anger, determination, even a power play that Malinowski said had been “brutally awful.”
But whatever it was, it worked.
One year after heartbreak, there was jubilation for the Marlins.
“It was just amazing,” Malinowski said of a 3-2 victory against Walled Lake Unified in the Michigan Metro Girls High School Hockey League Division 2 championship game, played March 9 at Eddie Edgar Arena in Livonia. “When I took over a few years ago, this was a team with five or six wins. My message was just to stop losing.”
“I believe champions know how to win, but understand how to avoid losing at the same time,” he continued. “The girls started buying into the system, working toward this. And to bounce back, a year after losing how we did, was pretty special.”
Malinowski said his team came out a little on edge when the game started. With the biggest crowd of the season, “I think the nerves got to them a bit.”
Walled Lake got the game’s first goal, which turned to be a small blessing.
“I think it woke us up,” Malinowski explained.
Mercy’s Morgan DeBrincat scored shortly after to even the game at 1-1, and then with just 20 seconds remaining in the second period, Madeline McClain, who scored 45 goals in the regular season, made it 2-1.
Walled Lake eventually tied the game on a penalty shot later in the third, but on a power play with two minutes remaining in regulation, McClain scored her second of the night, eliminating the possibility of overtime and giving the Marlins their first title in their 12-year program history.
“To get it on the power play was incredible,” Malinowski said with a laugh. “That had been our one weakness all season.”
Mercy closed the season 15-5-0, including a 10-2 victory against Warren Regina in the semifinals of the D-2 playoffs.
“The whole season was something special,” Malinowski added. “We had the whole school behind us. That crowd was something we’ll never forget. I think we’re all still in kind of shock at how it went. But it was an honor to be part of.”