TRAVERSE CITY — Chris Givens has spent more than half his life as head coach of the Traverse City Central hockey team.
Naturally, when his team competed against Muskegon Mona Shores on his birthday Wednesday night at Howe Ice Arena, Givens only wanted one thing — the Division 2 regional title.
“That’s really all I wanted,” Givens said.
The head coach of 28 years blew out 53 candles Wednesday and hours later his wish was granted.
The Trojans gifted Givens the sixth regional title in school history with a 6-1 victory over the Sailors, sending them to the state quarterfinals Saturday against Marquette in Gaylord.
TC Central’s ultra-aggressive offensive style was on display all evening and it proved to be the downfall of the Sailors on a night that saw the Trojans pile on the goals later in the game via the power play.
The teams battled to a stalemate through one period, but frustrations began to boil over in the second. TCC outshot the Sailors 16-5 in the first period and being unable to find the net began to frustrate the Trojans.
Following six minutes without a shot to start the second, the Trojans broke the tie with a power play goal from Carson Peters only seconds before the halfway point of the game. The Sailors responded quickly with their only goal of the night from Trent Benedict, but the rest of the game went downhill for Mona Shores quickly.
Charlie Douglass sucked the Sailors’ momentum out of the rink with a short-side top-shelf shot 90 seconds later to reclaim the lead for TCC off an assist from Will Dawson.Nine seconds later the Sailors were given a 5-minute major for boarding, setting up the rest of the evening for the Trojans.
“I looked up at the clock and knew we were going to finish the period on the power play and have a minute into the third,” Givens said. “We thought we could put them on their heels and it worked to our advantage.”
Peters put another goal in for TCC after the puck leaked behind the Sailors goalie with three minutes to play in the second period before Douglass dazzled the crowd again.
Douglass found the net on another improbable angle, lifting the puck to the top shelf from the short side with only 24 seconds to play in the period.
“A couple of big goals by Charlie there,” Givens said. “From where I was standing, it sure didn’t like he had much room on either one of them.”
Douglass said he was confident in both of his scoring chances.
“We shoot against good goalies everyday, so when I see a little area, I know my shot speed,” Douglass said. “I know if it’s a good goalie I can squeeze it in there after shooting on (Grant Neuhardt) in practice.”
The Trojans would get two more goals, each from Chris Usiondek, in the final period. Will Dawson tallied two assists while James Bradfield and Nick Sommerfield each had one. The Trojans totaled three power play goals on the night.
“They (TCC) shoot from everywhere, they crash and they buzz around the net,” Sailors head coach Chris Benedict said. “They are relentless and they don’t let up. As the game went on they just kept buzzing and we missed a few assignments and they made us pay.”
The Trojans didn’t let up after taking the 4-1 lead into the third thanks to prior experience. Givens and his team referenced two games in which they blew leads of three or more goals in the final period and said they talked about those games during the final intermission.
“Going into the third with a three-goal lead is big and we’ve blown those leads before this year,” Douglass said. “Those moments have no effect on our actual goals for the season. Those were learning points for moments like this.”
Neuhardt made 17 saves on the night, including a lunging stick save that kept a puck from the net on a 2-on-1 for the Sailors in the third period. The Trojans put 36 shots on goal to the Sailors’ 18.
“I mean it’s just the little things,” Douglass said of his keeper’s effort while up three goals. “Coach says all the time there are 150 high school teams in the state and probably about 100 of them are just average. It’s the little things like that, that separate the good teams from the great teams.”
The Trojans (22-3-2) will head to the Ostego County Sportsplex in Gaylord to take on Marquette (23-4) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 1 p.m.