Second Half reports
PLYMOUTH — Thomas Hernandez was ready to give up hockey, a sport he’d been playing for 13 years.
“I’ve been thinking about playing college lacrosse,” the Warren DeLaSalle senior said. “I wasn’t even going to play (hockey) my senior year.”
Peer pressure, it turns out, can sometimes be a good thing.
“All my friends were telling me to come play,” Hernandez said.
After playing AAA-level travel hockey, Hernandez played his only season of high school hockey as a senior, a move that helped bring the Pilots their first MHSAA championship.
Hernandez scored a hat trick in DeLaSalle’s 6-3 victory over Calumet in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game Saturday at USA Hockey Arena.
When the buzzer sounded, the Pilots jumped on each other in a huge mob, then got up and jumped into the glass that separated them from their enthusiastic student section. This was an experience Hernandez never had, even when he and current teammate Gregory Pine won a state championship on the Oakland Grizzlies travel team.
“It’s unreal, playing in front of students,” Hernandez said. “It’s unbelievable. In travel, it’s just your parents up in the stands and scouts.
“This has been my favorite year by far, ever. I’ve been playing hockey for 14 years, and it’s been my best year yet.”
It wasn’t a year without challenges, however.
Hernandez fractured his foot and tore ligaments on both sides of his ankle in January. Even after returning Feb. 15, he didn’t feel quite right.
“The first two games were really rough,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was OK to keep playing. I was talking with the trainers and our coaches. They said to take a couple practices off. I took a week off after my first game back. It felt good after that.”
Hernandez’s best year of hockey was also the best for DeLaSalle, which was playing in its first MHSAA Final after Semifinal losses in 2010 and 2014. During their time at DeLaSalle, the seniors have seen the football team win the 2014 Division 2 championship and the baseball team win the 2016 Division 1 title.
“Watching those other teams win, it’s so cool being in the student section and being part of that, because it really is like a championship for the whole school, which it is,” senior Matthew Pelto said. “To be part of the actual team that wins it is absolutely another level.”
“It’s an unreal feeling to be part of the legacy DeLaSalle has made and join the other sports in their state championships,” Pine said.
It was the second hat trick of the season for Hernandez, who had four goals in a 7-2 victory over Traverse City West on Nov. 25. Those two performances accounted for seven of his 24 goals this season.
“I just thought about it being my last game and just wanting to give it my all,” Hernandez said. “The puck happened to be in my favor tonight. It just went in for me.”
Calumet (23-7-1) took out reigning champion and fourth-ranked Hancock, eighth-ranked Houghton and top-ranked Flint Powers Catholic during the postseason, but couldn’t overcome a slow start against fifth-ranked DeLaSalle (20-9-1).
“It’s everybody’s dream to make it this far,” Calumet senior forward Rory Anderson said. “We had a great season this year. To make it this far was a great accomplishment for us.”
DeLaSalle bombarded Calumet early, jumping out to a 4-0 lead by the 14:04 mark of the first period.
Hernandez got it started on a breakaway at the 4:49 mark after taking a long lead pass from Austin Scott.
Scott made it 2-0 when he banged in a Greg Pine pass from the edge of the crease just 34 seconds later.
Hernandez’s second goal at 8:19 and James Corbett’s goal at 14:04 gave DeLaSalle four goals on only seven shots on net. At that point, Calumet switched goalies.
The Copper Kings got a goal they desperately needed to stop the bleeding, getting within 4-1 on Brent Loukus’ goal with 2:03 left in the first. They then received a five-minute power play on a boarding major, but couldn’t capitalize.
“We made it 4-1 and had some opportunities there, and I thought we generated some good shots and had some good opportunities,” Calumet coach Dan Giachino said. “The goaltender made some nice stops on us. That was the opportunity to get ourselves back in the game if we could have got a couple there on the five-minute power play.”
The bounce of the puck went the Copper Kings’ way to get them within 4-2, as a shot off the back boards by Izaak Avery went in off of goalie Andrew Grewette with 3:10 left in the second period.
Calumet didn’t get a chance to build off of that momentum, falling behind 5-2 when Hernandez knocked in a rebound on the power play with 1:33 to go in the second.
Ed Beiring gave Calumet some hope when he scored with 6:52 left in the game, but Pine’s empty-netter with 1:32 to go clinched the Pilots’ first title.
“We came in as coaches from day one and said we wanted to win a championship,” first-year DeLaSalle coach Craig Staskowski said. “You take a position as a coach at DeLaSalle, and that’s going to be the goal – you want to win championships. The guys bought in, put the work in and made sure it happened.”
PHOTOS: Warren DeLaSalle players, including Max VanderDonck (12), celebrate during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Calumet’s Ed Beiring (9) moves the puck down the ice. (Photos by Andrew Knapik Photography.)