Powered by Stars, Byron Center Writes Championship Chapter This Time

March 9, 2024

PLYMOUTH — This time, nobody was going to jam home a rebound with 6.7 seconds left to crush their dreams.

This time, there wasn’t a Peter Rosa around to don a Superman cape and score a third-period hat trick to rip a championship from their hands.

Byron Center had its own Superman this time, ensuring the Bulldogs wouldn’t be victims of another team’s storybook ending again.

Senior forward Jackson Froysland completed his hat trick 1 minute, 10 seconds into the third period to give Byron Center a four-goal cushion in a 6-1 victory over Trenton in the MHSAA Division 2 championship game Saturday at USA Hockey Arena.

Few teams have suffered the degree of multiple heartbreaking losses on the Finals stage as Byron Center.

In 2021, the Bulldogs lost 2-1 to Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice when Alec Hamady scored with 6.7 seconds left.

In 2023, Byron Center took a 2-0 lead into the third period. That’s when Rosa solidified his legacy at Brother Rice by scoring three goals in the Warriors’ 4-2 victory, a game in which Roman Villaire scored the game-winner with 4:42 left.

Knowing there would be no soul-crushing drama this time around, players on Byron Center’s bench began celebrating with 1:43 left in the game.

The Bulldogs’ Cade Pratt (19) maintains possession as Trenton’s Lucas Sawmiller (21) tries to reach the puck.“We’ve been thinking about that for a whole year,” Froysland said. “Coming into that locker room after the second period, we knew what they were going to come out and do. We countered that pretty well, I’d say.”

Froysland has been as instrumental as any player in the rise of Byron Center’s co-op hockey program from its beginnings in 2016-17. Grand Rapids South Christian and Wayland also have students on the team.

With three goals and one assist against Trenton, Froysland finished his three-year career with 72 goals and 98 assists in 88 games.

Senior lineman Cade Pratt has been just as integral to the Bulldogs’ success. With two goals and two assists Saturday, he extended his points streak to 35 games going back to the final five games of last season. He finished this season with 34 goals and 54 assists in 30 games.

A year ago, Pratt’s goal in the first period gave Byron Center the 2-0 lead it carried into the third period against Brother Rice.

“Throughout the whole season, we’d touch on it here and there,” Pratt said. “When you go in 2-0 and lose, it burns you. Going into the third period of this game, it was a little reminiscent of that game. We knew what we had to do.”

After two near misses, the Bulldogs became only the third Grand Rapids-area team to win an MHSAA hockey championship. East Kentwood won Class A in 1990, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central captured Division 3 in 2011.

“I’m normally not lost for words after games, and I didn’t have a lot to say to these guys other than how much I love them as people, as hockey players, as teammates, as brothers,” Byron Center coach Jordan Steger said. “Then after I told them that, I got soaked in some water. Pretty much the postgame speech was cut off after that.”

Jackson Froysland carries the puck for the Bulldogs.After a scoreless first period, Froysland scored the first two goals of the game by the 6:29 mark of the second.

Trenton’s John Medvich cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 2-1 at 9:42 before Pratt scored twice in a 3:05 span to give Byron Center a 4-1 lead going into the third.

There would be no third-period heartache this time around.

Froysland picked up his hat trick during a two-man advantage 1:10 into the third, prompting a round of “Mr. Hockey” cheers from the Bulldogs’ student section. Braxton McKee extended the lead to 6-1 just 1:39 later.

“Coming in, everyone knew they had two candidates that are legitimate Mr. Hockey winners,” Trenton coach Chad Clements said. “Either one of them deserves it, as well as there’s some others out there, but those two especially on that top line; just tremendous hockey players.

“We tried to get the right matchups on the ice. They were matching up against us. It was cat and mouse, which was fun. They got some favorable matchup combinations against us. They scored a power-play goal that started everything. They’re dangerous. I thought we did a very good job of taking away time and space in the first period. Unfortunately, we were unable to (continue) that. That’s when the four goals happened.”

Trenton (23-5-2), which ranks third in MHSAA history with 14 Finals championships, was denied what would have been its first title since 2014. The Trojans have finished runner-up for times since winning 10 years ago.

“Wearing this jersey is something special,” Trenton senior captain Boston Bennett said. “It’s one of the best, if not the best, hockey communities in Michigan.”

Brady Swanson made 34 saves for Byron Center (27-2-1).

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PHOTOS (Top) Byron Center raises its first Finals championship trophy Saturday after its Division 2 win over Trenton. (Middle) The Bulldogs’ Cade Pratt (19) maintains possession as Trenton’s Lucas Sawmiller (21) tries to reach the puck. (Below) Jackson Froysland carries the puck for the Bulldogs. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)