Cranbrook Kingswood Caps Comeback

March 14, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half 

PLYMOUTH — No one is immune from the disappointments of playoff hockey, not even those who play for a perennial powerhouse like Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

Three years ago, Cooper Stahl and Austin Alger were freshmen on a Cranes team that outshot Marysville 55-19, only to lose a 2-1 overtime shocker in the Regional Finals.

Last season, they were juniors on a Cranbrook Kingswood squad that fell 3-2 in the MHSAA Division 3 Quarterfinals to an upstart Farmington squad, which was outshot 62-15, but used that upset as a springboard to an unlikely championship.

The common theme for the 2013 and 2015 Cranbrook Kingswood teams is how they responded to adversity, bouncing back from rare early exits in the postseason to add to the school's record total of MHSAA championships.

The count is now at 17 after the Cranes' dominating performance in a 4-0 victory over Houghton in the Division 3 Final on Saturday at Compuware Arena. Trenton ranks No. 2 on the list with 14 championships.

"They're the top team in Division 3, and have been," Houghton coach Corey Markham said. "They're the measuring stick. ... They're as good as anyone in the state. They're not just a good Division 3 team, they're as good as anyone in the state, and they've proven that."

Cranbrook Kingswood has a 17-2 record in MHSAA Finals, winning in its last nine appearances, but — despite impressions to the contrary — the Cranes don't always make it to the final day of the tournament.

"It really helps motivate us," Stahl said of the two playoff losses during his four-year career. "We've seen both spectrums, the highs and lows. Throughout my four years here, every day in practice and off ice, everything we do, we had both of those feelings in our mind. We wanted the good one we experienced today."

Like his brother Alex two years earlier, forward Austin Alger spent his senior year working to go out on top after a crushing end to his junior year.

"After getting knocked out against Farmington last year, the guys were on a mission this year," Alger said. "It was easy with the seniors. There were 13 leaders on the team."

The Cranes outshot Houghton 50-13, but they know that shots alone don't win hockey games when the opposing goalie morphs into a brick wall.

Cranbrook Kingswood (25-2-4) didn't allow Houghton senior Marcus Gloss to establish control of the game, peppering him early and coming away with a 3-0 lead after one period.

Mason Schultz buried a backhanded rebound just 42 seconds into the game to open the scoring. By the middle of the first period, the Cranes had a three-goal cushion, with Cole Adaskaveg knocking home a rebound at 6:38 and Blake Rogow scoring from the blue line at 8:09.

"Getting one early just really calms the nerves for someone who hasn't played at Compuware before, like a freshman who doesn't have that much playoff experience," Stahl said. "It helps settle everyone down to get one goal early and play the rest of the game the way we usually do."

It was a shocking start for Houghton, which allowed only four goals in its five postseason games, and never more than one.

"They jumped on us quick," Gloss said. "I'm not quite sure I was as ready as I should have been. I didn't expect such a quick start. It's tough when they're on you so fast."

Houghton's big chance to get back into the game came at 15:12 of the first period when C.J. Regula of the Cranes received a five-minute major for boarding. The game was a stalemate during that extended power play, with both teams getting one shot on goal.

The Gremlins (24-5-2) wouldn't get another power play until the game was virtually out of reach at 4-0 midway through the third period.

"That was demoralizing, it really was," Markham said. "You think being down three that this is our chance, you get one, maybe two in those five minutes. When we didn't score in those five minutes, it was a little blow. We never just quite got that spark. We didn't have that spark to give us a little pep, a little jump in our step."

After allowing three goals on the first 12 shots, Gloss stopped the next 25 he faced to give Houghton a glimmer of hope for a comeback.

The Gremlins' best scoring chance of the game came early in the third period, when Reid Pietila pounced on a loose puck on a rush and nearly slipped it through the pads of goalie Spencer Applebaum, who looked behind him to see if the puck was in the net.

It was the toughest save in a 13-save shutout for Applebaum, who was also the goaltender when Cranbrook Kingswood beat Sault Ste. Marie to win the 2013 title.

"It was a two-on-two," Applebaum said. "The first guy kind of threw it toward the net. It got deflected in front. The second guy, I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I slid over and he shot it five-hole. I didn't know if I had it, but it was stuck under my pad, probably less than a foot away from the goal line, so I barely got there."

"I tried to slide it under him, but he made a good save," Pietila said. "I try not to be too hard on myself, but it's kind of hard in this situation."

Not long after Applebaum's save, the Cranes essentially put the game away on a power-play goal by Regula with 13:05 left in the game.

"We got a couple of good bounces in today's game," Cranes coach Andy Weidenbach said. "The goalie gave up a couple rebounds and the bounces ended up on our stick. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't. Today the bounces seemed to go our way, and we were able to capitalize on at least three rebounds."

Houghton is 1-4 in MHSAA Finals, its victory coming in 1982 against Flint Powers Catholic. The Cranes are 3-0 in the postseason against the Gremlins, winning 6-5 in the 1979 Class B Final and 3-2 in double overtime in the 1997 Class B Semifinals.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood players celebrate during Saturday's Division 3 Final win. (Middle) The Cranes' Sean O'Leary works to move the puck ahead. (Photos by Andrew Knapik/Southgate.)