Northview defenseman Kooper Carter could never have dreamed up a better scenario to score his first goal of the season as the sophomore netted the game winner in the district championship Saturday night.
Carter scored with 10:55 remaining on a long floater to send the Wildcats to the state final four. Northview (29-1-3) held off St. John's Jesuit 2-1.
"It's my first high school career goal. It feels so good to do it in this game and go to state," Carter said "It was huge. But it's not about me. It's all about the team. It's awesome."
The championship featured plenty of high quality shots, big checks, and solid goaltending before an energetic standing-room-only crowd of 1,607 at Tam-O-Shanter.
Cooper's goal made it 2-0, but the Titans rallied as Jimmy Scott scored a power-play goal with 5:30 left. Northview goalie Austin Gryca, who finished with 25 saves, shutdown a late power play to preserve the win.
"This was the perfect game," Gryca said.
Northview advances to face Olentangy Orange, which defeated Dublin Jerome 3-2 in four overtimes on Saturday, in the state semifinals next Saturday in Columbus.
The Wildcats, which reached the state title game in 2010, earned another trip by defeating St. John's (25-10-1) for the fourth time this season.
"You can't draw it up better," Northview coach Mike Jones said. "This is what the playoffs and this time of year are all about."
Junior Nick Laplant gave Northview a 1-0 lead with 6:46 left in the first period.
"It was huge to give us momentum and it carried over," Laplant said.
St. John's shutdown all four of Northview's power play chances. Sophomore goalie Mike Barrett finished with 28 saves.
"I could not be any prouder of my guys," St. John's coach Mike Hayes said. "They played their hearts out tonight."
The Wildcats were hanging on to a one-goal lead when Carter sent a wobbly, floater that eluded Barrett. Zach Felser won a faceoff draw right back to Carter.
"He saved it for this one," Jones said. "He knew he owed us one. He popped one in there and it stood up."
St. John's responded by capitalizing on a 5-on-3 advantage as Scott ripped a shot from the point after Austin Kelly won a faceoff draw to the junior. The Titans also still had a power play for 1:48 after Scott's marker. Hayes pulled his goalie but his team could not find the equalizer.
The Wildcats also avenged a loss in the district semifinals last season when the Titans ended their season.
Northview took advantage of a bad clearing attempt by Titans' defenseman Ryan Rapp to post the first goal of the game. Laplant intercepted the pass from deep in the St. John's end that was sent up the middle of the ice. Laplant took it in from just over the blue line and blasted in a shot from about 25 feet out.
The Wildcats came out hitting hard as Kyler Omey and Tyler Dewitt had huge checks over the first 1:10.
The Titans successfully killed off two first period penalties. The Wildcats then shutdown St. John's only power play of the first period.
An evenly played scoreless second period featured good flow and plenty of quality chances for each team.
Gryca and Butler each came up with terrific saves just 30 seconds apart midway through the middle period. Gryca stopped Nate Bigelow's shot and then Butler stoned Drew Crandall.
"I don't think I'm a prophet but I wrote down in warm ups that No. 30 [Gryca] would be great tonight and he was," Jones said.
The path to a state title got a bit easier when No. 1 ranked and previously undefeated Cleveland St. Ignatius was upset 3-2 by Lakewood St. Edward in another district title game on Saturday afternoon. Northview was ranked second in the last state poll, while St. John's was sixth.
"It's wonderful to come out and do this again," said Gryca, who was in net in 2010 when they finished second.
The program has never captured a state championship.
"This means a ton," Jones said. "I'm not going to lie. We believe we are the best public institution in the state. It's an uphill battle going up against the private schools. We take a pride in that."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.