Rice hockey team savors Catholic League title, looks ahead to rematch
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
DETROIT — Roughly a minute remained before a stalemate would have been called, ending a back-and-forth battle in a draw nobody wanted.
Then, a minor rush on net developed.
A harmless wrist shot was fired.
Almost in slow motion, the puck trickled toward the goal line, frozen in time as it sat untouched.
Fans of both teams rose as one, collectively holding their breath.
Chandler Gillespie then gave half of them a reason to celebrate.
“It’s a good win for us. I mean, anytime you win a league title is special,” Birmingham Brother Rice hockey coach Lou Schmidt Jr. said after his team beat Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 4-3 in overtime in the Catholic League’s Division 1 final at Joe Louis Arena. “And to do it playing here, makes it even better.”
Gillespie notched the game-winner with 1:06 remaining in overtime.
Had he not tapped the loose puck in, the teams would have been awarded a co-championship.
“It was really anybody’s game,” Schmidt said. “Both teams battled back and forth all night.”
And they did so three goals at a time.
Rice struck first, when Russell Cicerone scored an unassisted goal 9:04 into the first period.
The Warriors went up 3-0 after Ross Haffey and Conner Jean scored in the second.
But St. Mary’s responded with three goals of its own.
Dieon Mueller made it 3-1 with 4:56 remaining in the second period, and then Michael Muller and Cooper Marody scored roughly eight minutes apart in the third to even the game and force overtime.
Both teams generated a number of chances in the extra session, and just when it seemed a tie was on hand, Gillespie sent the Warriors’ faithful who had made the trip downtown into a frenzy.
“It’s an awesome experience, to get to play here and win a title,” Schmidt added. “You’d love to see 20,000 people in the stands to make it even cooler, but we’ll take this.”
The win was the third for Rice against St. Mary’s in 2013, but the celebration can’t last very long.
The teams — also Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League foes — are set to begin the Division 1 state playoffs against one another at 8:10 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena.
“I don’t know if we can really use this as any sort of advantage going into that one,” Schmidt said with a smile. “We’re so familiar with one another, and we’re both such strong teams. I think it really comes down to who wants it more and who has a better night that night. That’s it.”
“It is what it is,” said Eaglets coach Brian Klanow of the first-round matchup with Rice. “I guess I wouldn’t do it that way, putting all the top-ranked teams like this in the same region, but I don’t make those decisions. I don’t work (for the MHSAA).”
Rice, the top-ranked team all season and the 2012 D-2 champ, was 18-3-2 at press time.
The Warriors face a St. Mary’s team that was 13-10-1 and ranked No. 5.
The winner faces Birmingham Unified or Farmington Hills Unified — two of the better teams in the Oakland Activities Association — at 6:55 p.m. Feb. 27.
The regional final is set for 7:30 p.m. March 2 at the St. Mary’s Ice Arena. Sitting on the other side of the bracket is No. 3-ranked Novi Detroit Catholic Central (14-6-0).
“If it’s going to be this way, though, Rice is the team you want to see right off the bat,” Klanow added. “Why fool around with anyone else? You’ll have to beat them eventually, if you accomplish what you want to.”