BY CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The clock in the third period felt like it was moving too slow for Caleb Breithaupt and the Traverse City West hockey team on Saturday.
It ended up being 44 seconds too slow.
Livonia Stevenson, the top-ranked team in the state in Division 2, netted a game-tying goal with 44 seconds left in regulation, then knocked the game winner home with 1:15 remaining in overtime as Stevenson slipped past West 3-2 on the second day of the North vs. South Showcase at Centre ICE Arena.
Devin Kelly had both of Stevenson’s last two goals, spoiling what was an otherwise encouraging performance by the Titans (7-9).
“I wouldn’t say disappointment because we played a hell of a game, but definitely some sadness,” Breithaupt said, when asked what was going through his mind after the loss. “That’s the No. 1 team in the state right there. We went from losing to some not so great teams to taking the best team in the state to overtime in a matter of weeks. It’s a tough loss, but it’s a good thing at the same time.”
It was good because for three periods the Titans played toe-to-toe with the Spartans, the defending state champions in Division 2 and an offensive juggernaut that scored five goals one night earlier in a 5-2 win over Traverse City Central. But West led for the entire game, aside from a 10-minute stretch of the second period, and didn’t trail until Kelly’s decisive score.
“Right now it stinks, but I think when we take a step back and look at it, we just took the No. 1 team in the state to overtime,” said West coach Jeremy Rintala. “Coming from where we did a couple of weeks ago when we were struggling to even score against some weaker teams, our boys played great today. They gave it everything they had and they gave one of the top teams in the state, if not the top team in the state, everything they could handle for three periods. I’m very proud. There’s wins and losses that you’re happy and not so happy about. This is one loss that we can feel OK about.”
Jake Saxton had a goal and an assist for West. Ryan Roehler had the other goal for the Titans, Roehler’s coming than three minutes into the game.
Stevenson (15-1) tied the score with a power play goal by Tyler Irvine just over three minutes into the second period. The Spartans appeared to take the lead seven minutes later, but the officials waved off the goal ruling the Titans’ net had become dislodged. Saxton put the Titans back ahead three minutes later when he forced a turnover deep in the Stevenson zone and ripped a shot over the right shoulder of goalie Brad Couts, who faced 18 shots.
Stevenson, meanwhile, fired 38 shots at West netminder Tyler Buchanan, who made some big-time saves but had some good help from his defense as well, including Breithaupt.
“Team defense was great,” said Rintala. “They had a lot of chances, but we kept a lot of their chances to the outside. Our ‘D’ did a great job of clearing pucks away. Tyler made that first save and he had to make a lot of great saves. They’re filling the net this year and with the type of talent they have on that team we were able to hold them at bay for most of the game.”
Containing Stevenson’s potent offense was a huge challenge, but one the Titans’ defense was able to meet.
“They were fast, very strong. It was tiring as well,” said Breithaupt. “Our forwards helped us out a lot. It was a team effort.”
The loss came on the heels of a 1-0 victory on Friday over Utica Eisenhower. Those two performances have West feeling good about the direction the season is trending.
“It’s definitely a big step forward,” said Breithaupt. “It seems like this weekend it finally clicked. We’re starting to get better scoring. We’re starting to get more production out of second and third line guys. Our goalies are playing really good, too. Tyler Buchanan had a great weekend.”