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After a year of playing travel hockey in what would have been his freshman season at Northview, Zach Felser decided to join the Wildcats in the pursuit of a state title this season.
Felser and his teammates moved within two victories of that objective last night as he scored the first two goals in a 7-1 rout of Findlay in a district final at Tam O'Shanter, which was packed to the brim with spirited fans from both schools.
"I'm speechless right now," said Felser, a sophomore who played junior hockey with Motor City last season. "This means a lot to me. I got two goals, but everybody played well."
Felser also tallied an assist to finish with a game-high three points.
"He came to play," Northview coach Mike Jones said. "I saw him before the game, and he was just so serious, and he's not usually that serious. I was hoping he'd be OK, but I'll take a serious Zach Felser all day, I guess."
After killing off a Findlay power play that came 20 seconds into the contest, Northview began putting heavy pressure on Trojans goalie Travis Friar (21 saves).
By the 7:40 mark, the Wildcats broke through after Felser corralled a pass from Mark Hall in front of the net and poked the puck past Friar.
Moments later, Felser fired a shot from the right circle past Friar to give Northview a 2-0 lead with 4:07 remaining in the period.
"The two goals were pretty big, especially getting them right off the bat," Felser said. "But a two-goal lead is never safe in hockey. You have to keep going."
The Wildcats did just that, with Felser picking up a helper on Kyler Omey's slapshot from the blue line that appeared to deflect off a sliding Findlay defenseman on the way to the back of the net with 2:31 left in the first.
Northview added another goal with 1:38 left in the second on Tyler Harding's one-timer from Ryan LaPlante.
By the 1:44 mark of the third, the Wildcats' lead had swelled to 5-0 after Mark Hall's one-timer from Dalton Carter.
"I told them to keep their foot on the gas pedal," Jones said. "This is a sport where you can't play a prevent defense. There's no such thing, and the second you try to do that, you get caught. And the next thing you know it's tied and the ball is rolling the other way."
Findlay (21-9-2), which upset top-ranked St. Francis in the district semifinals, spoiled Northview goalie Austin Gryca's shutout bid with Alex Fenimore's power-play goal with 11:24 to play.
The sophomore finished with 16 saves.
"We had good moments, but their goalie did a great job taking goals away from us," Findlay coach Dan St. Jean said. "Coming off a huge game against St. Francis, our emotions were real high. This just wasn't our best showing tonight."
The Wildcats tacked on two more goals in the final minutes. Anthoney Holley's breakaway goal with 8:35 left made it 6-1, and Aaron Booth's snapshot through Friar's legs with 3:24 remaining proved to be the final difference.
Northview (20-8-3) advances to the state final four for the first time since 2006 when it finished runner-up under legendary coach Jim Cooper. The Wildcats have never won a state championship.
"This is [Cooper's] program," said Jones, who played and coached under Cooper during part of his 33-year tenure at the school.
"Don't kid yourself. It's not mine, it's not these kids, it's not the school's. This is his program. And regardless of whether we win the state title or it happens 10 years from now, it's always going to be for him."
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