Northview's Wildcats have moved a step closer to getting back to the state hockey final four for the first time since their state runner-up season of 2006, holding on Saturday night for a 4-3 win over St. John's Jesuit in a district semifinal at Tam O'Shanter.
Four different players delivered goals for the Wildcats (19-8-3), the No. 3 seed in the district, backing the goaltending of sophomore Austin Gryca.
Senior forward Mark Hall scored the goal that proved to be the difference 51 seconds into the third period. Hall broke down the left side into the circle and zipped a high wrist shot into the top right corner past Titan senior goalie Mike Brahaney to give Northview a 4-2 lead.
After surrendering a power-play tally to St. John's senior forward Nick Walla at 8:17 of the third, the Wildcats survived several strong Titan scoring chances to advance to Saturday's 7 p.m. district final.
Northview will meet the winner of tomorrow's 6 p.m. district semifinal between top-ranked and top-seeded St. Francis de Sales, champion of the Northwest Hockey Conference, and fourth ranked Findlay.
The Wildcats dominated offensively for much of a wide-open first period, applying enough pressure to grab a 2-0 lead.
Junior forward Ryan LaPlante scored the first goal, back-handing a rebound at 7:41.
At the 10:23 mark, sophomore forward Zach Felser made it 2-0, breaking into the slot in front of Brahaney and flipping home a back-hander.
"It was our third game against them and we thought, if we could take the life out of them early, they would deplete," Wildcats coach Mike Jones said of his team's early edge. "We thought we did take the life out of them early, and the next thing you know it's 2-2. But, hat's off to them. That's a good program."
Northview also defeated the second-seeded Titans 5-2 and 4-2 during conference play.
The early damage Northview did was undone by St. John's (19-11-3) in a span of 13 seconds later in the first period.
First, senior forward Kyle Knox broke in alone from the left wing to beat Gryca with three minutes left in the first. Then, with 2:47 left, junior forward Eric Brown, on an assist from Walla, slipped one home to knot things at 2-2.
But the Wildcats would regain their composure, and the lead, when junior forward Nolan Culver got free down the right side to beat Brahaney with 33 seconds left in the first.
"We gave away a little bit too much too early, and made it an uphill battle," said St. John's Mike Hayes, who coached the Titans to a state championship in 2007. "I thought the guys did a great job after the first half of the first period. They just didn't have enough to get it done."
Things settled down during a scoreless second period, and both coaches knew the next goal would be big for whichever team got it.
"That was huge," Jones said of Hall's goal. "We talked about it between periods that the next goal was going to be huge, and we were fortunate enough to get it."
"That was a back-breaker that first minute," Hayes said. "We felt like we could get them to break. I thought they were getting a little tired, and we were starting to dictate the play a little bit."
Jones would have preferred more aggressive play from his team after St. John's got back within 4-3.
"It's like in football, when they go into the prevent defense in the fourth quarter, I want to hit my television screen," Jones said. "That's what I wanted to get away from.
"I wanted to keep the gas pedal on the floor and keep pushing rather than sit back and try to protect the lead because that usually leads to bad things."
Fortunately for Northview, not this time.
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