By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It seemed like a matter of time.
Nico Saco made sure time didn't run out.
Saco's goal 2:28 into the second overtime gave Traverse City Central a Division 2 playoff-opening victory Monday over Grand Rapids West Catholic at Howe Arena.
It was a game that Central dominated, but mostly trailed. The Trojans outshot the Falcons 70-15. And West Catholic blocked another 33 shots.
After Friday's rally from a 6-2 second-period deficit against Sault Ste. Marie for a 7-6 overtime victory, Monday's decision might have been even more of a surprise.
"I don't need any more, to be perfectly honest," Central coach Chris Givens said. "That was something. Their goalie was phenomenal. We must have had over 100 (shot) attempts. I've never seen a team block so many shots. They blocked everything. We couldn't get anything through from the point — power play, even strength, it didn't matter. They did a really good job of blocking shots."
Saco was able to lift a shot high on one of the few rebounds West Catholic goalie Adam Rooney allowed to give No. 3-ranked Central (23-3) the win and the first of what Trojan fans hope are six postseason victories.
"When Cam (Givens) passed it to me, I was trying to look for an opening and I passed it to Cooper (Macdonell)," Saco said. "It didn't go in for him, so I settled the puck, saw an opening on the glove side and went there."
That set off a mad rush by Central's bench onto the ice, while Rooney sat on his back in the net and four Falcons skaters slumped to the ice around him.
"It was a big relief," Saco said. "I don't know if we should have been that close. But it was still a really close game. They played hard. Just to win it and keep going in the playoffs feels great.
"Their goalie played great. It was just frustrating. We had 70 shots and just couldn't bury (them). It's frustrating when that happens, but we got it finished."
Rhys Adle knotted the game up at 2-2 off a nice pass through the crease from Alex Oliver 5:50 into the third. Mitchell Ward drew an assist on the goal that marked the first time Central hadn't trailed since the contest's fifth minute.
"I think it's a wake-up call," Saco said. "Now we have to go harder. We can't do that again."
West Catholic took a 2-1 lead on Mitch Miklosi's unassisted goal.
"We knew going in that this team was the best team we've faced all year," Falcons coach Mike Maas said. "We changed it up a bit. We boxed it in and tried to block as many shots as we could and hoped to get offense off turnovers. The kids executed the game plan as good as we could have asked. We wanted to just have a good first period. That's it. They exceeded our expectations. Then we had a good second and a good third. It's one of the best hockey games I've been a part of. Our senior goalie stood on his head. It was just shot after shot. I'm proud of the way the kids played the game."
TC Central took an early 1-0 lead on Ward's ninth goal of the season.
That lead didn't last long, however, as West Catholic's Dontae Ensley scored on a turn-around shot that snuck through the five-hole 3:08 later.
West Catholic wraps up its season 14-11-1 with a second-place finish in the Old Kent Conference's third tier.
"This is a great ending to our year," Maas said. "We would have liked to have won, but that's a good team over there."
Central goalie Bill Vermetten made 13 saves, while Rooney had 67. The Trojans defense — led by Joe Videcki and Brady Brantley — played as big a role in holding the Falcons to 15 shots as Central's offense did by maintaining possession for large chunks of time.
The Trojans had two scoring opportunities waived off. Ward fired a shot that appeared to go in the net off the pipe with 4:02 left in regulation, and Central jammed at a puck in Rooney's pads that referees had to confer over before ruling it wasn't across the line. Just 1:12 later, Saco's goal counted.
"Of course you have people on both ends saying both of them were in," Givens said. "But you expect people to say that, no matter what's happening. The one (in the second overtime), the boys were saying it was over the line and (Rooney) reached with his glove and pulled it back. The one (in the third period), people said they saw the net move. I asked (referee) Chad (Wilson) if he was 100-percent sure and he said, 'Yeah,' and Matt (Ameel) said 'Hey, I never saw it cross the line.' If they don't see it cross the line, they can't call it."
TC Central moves on to host No. 10-ranked Grand Haven (14-8-3) Wednesday at Howe.