BY JAMES COOK
---- — DETROIT — After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, it was nearly in the bag for Traverse City West.
Or, perhaps more accurately, in the hat. A hat trick of sorts, but with a goalie twist.
Titans goaltender Brendan Lacharite donned a toque for the outdoor game at the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park as West earned a 4-3 victory Wednesday over rival Traverse City Central as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival despite being outshot 35-18.
As the old hockey saying goes in part, he didn't have to stand on his head, but if he had to, he'd have had extra padding.
Goalie coach Bob Fernandez came up with the idea.
"His wife sewed Velcro inside the hat, so then once he stuck them on, there was no way it coming off," Lacharite said of the hats, as Titans backup netminder Tyler Buchanan also wore one.
"Our goalie played very well for us," West coach Jeremy Rintala said. "He weathered the storm. We had some parts of the game where we didn't play too hot, but it was one of our better games of the year."
West jumped in front 2-0 as Jordan Stevenson scored on a rebound and Jake Saxton.
Stevenson's came 8:21 into the game, just after a Central penalty expired as he chipped the rebound up and over netminder Jack Boyce. Saxton's was unassisted on a rush with 7:23 left. Each team killed off one first-period penalty, but Central still had a 14-8 advantage in shots.
The Titans took a 3-0 lead on Stevenson's second of the afternoon, again just after a power play expired. Jacob Benker and Greg Brandt picked up assists.
"I knew he was going to take the shot, so I started going to the middle to see if I could get a rebound," Stevenson said. "As the puck was going through the air, it bounced off my stick and redirected into the back of the net. I'd like to say I intended to do that."
Central came back and had 39 seconds of 5-on-3 after a pair of West penalties. Alex Oliver scored with four ticks of 5-on-3 left to make it 3-1.
West re-established its three-goal cushion with a Gavin Garmhausen goal off an Ashton Lawton assist with 7:41, which resulted in the Trojans putting Darrell Carlisle in goal in place of Boyce. At the point, Central was outshooting West 22-11.
"We can't give up four goals on 11 shots," Central coach Chris Givens said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing, you're not going to win games that way. But their goaltender played a really good game and stopped some good chances. We played well enough to win. It's not like we had a bad effort. At times we had really good, sustained pressure down there and he came up with some big things. We certainly played well enough to win."
Carlisle — who was playing on his 15th birthday — and Boyce each made seven saves on the day. Lacharite came up with 32 stops.
Central pulled within two goal when Cam Givens converted a 2-on-1 rush with Parker Hebden with 6:14 remaining.
With an extra attacker on the ice, Givens made it 4-3 when he took a shot just as some of the stadium's lights turned off with 37 seconds left. Hebden drew another assist on that goal.
"Board play was huge," Cam Givens said. "There were a lot of lost battles along the boards that West capitalized on. Give-aways were huge. But as the game went on, we got back to our game plan. Once we realized a lot of the game was going to be played along the walls, we got a handle on it and started to make some plays."
The TC West win also snapped Central's 24-game Big North Conference unbeaten streak, a run that extends back to the 2010-11 season.
"If we're going to lose, it might as well be to another Traverse City team," Cam Givens said. "It's a great rivalry. We just have to start a new (streak)."
West (3-4, 2-0 BNC) has now won both its league games to get a run of its own together. At 2-0, the Titans are atop the BNC. Central slips to 3-4-1 and 2-1-1 in league play.
"We were lucky enough to get a couple pucks to the net with traffic early in the game and grab a little momentum there," Rintala said. "That was huge for us, as a team that doesn't score a whole lot of goals. To start with a lead, you can play with more confidence.
"They're a good team, obviously. We knew we were going to have our hands full. They gave us all we could handle, but we were able to hang on at the end. They've been down in many games in that streak in the third period and found a way to come back and win — and they almost did it to us."
Stevenson's two goals give him three in seven games of the senior's first season on varsity.
"That kid just works hard and works hard," Rintala said. "Goes to the net and gets two — one rebound and one tip-in. Great kid, and just a great story. He was our equipment manager last year and willed his way onto the team and just keeps getting better and better. He's really coachable and a tough kid."
West's defense did a good job of keeping Central at bay. Two of the Trojans' goals were scored with an extra attacker — once on a 5-on-3 power play and later with their goalie pulled. Titan forwards were also able to get the puck deep and forechecked to keep Central on the defensive for stretches.
Carlisle and Lacharite both said the outdoor ice wasn't much of a factor in the contest.
"It wasn't that big of a difference," Lacharite said. "The ice might have been a little soft, but other than that, everything was perfect. It couldn't have been any better."