This past weekend the Grand Valley State University Roller Hockey program began its playoff run by competing at the MCRHL Championship Tournament at Canfield Arena in Dearborn Heights, MI. The Division 1 Lakers (overall record: 16-6-1, MCRHL record: 11-4-1) were seeded as the number two team in the double-elimination tournament. The Division 3 Lakers (overall record: 15-2-1, MCRHL record: 13-1-1) were pitted against Michigan State in a best of 3 series for the MCRHL Championship.
Game One – Miami (Ohio) University
The Lakers wasted little time stealing momentum in their first game of the playoffs as junior forward Michael Cavataio put GVSU up 1-0 less than two minutes into the contest. Late in the first period, junior forward Garrett Polish and junior defenseman Kenny Wurth extended the lead to 3-0 with goals of their own. Early in the second period, sophomore forward Cody Hagen contributed his first goal of the game before senior forward Dominic Zuelch quickly made it 5-0 two minutes into the middle frame. Polish added his second goal midway through the period. The Lakers finished the game by adding two more goals in the third period, one each by Zuelch and Hagen, for a convincing 8-0 victory. Grand Valley outshot the RedHawks 23-9 for the game while sophomore goaltender Chance Boutin picked up his third shutout of the season. Game Two (Semi-final) – Michigan State University
In the Lakers' second game of the weekend, it was the Spartans who seemingly took early control of the game by outshooting Grand Valley 16-4 and taking a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard in the first period. The Lakers finally settled in during the second period and cut the deficit to one off a powerplay goal from Polish midway through the period. The Spartans regained a two goal lead as they scored with just 9 seconds left in the middle frame. The Lakers continued to battle in the third period and were rewarded when Hagen scored 3:04 into the period to make it 3-2. Despite a continued strong push from the Grand Valley attack, they couldn't find the equalizer and MSU rounded out the scoring with just over three minutes left to defeat the Lakers 4-2. Boutin made 27 saves in the game for GVSU. Game Three (Semi-final) – Miami (Ohio) University
On Sunday morning, Grand Valley entered the win or go home game against the RedHawks knowing that they would see a much hungrier team than they had faced on Saturday. Late in the first period, the Lakers were able to capitalize on a powerplay opportunity as Wurth scored to put GVSU 1-0 after one period. In the opening moments of the second period, Zuelch scored to make it 2-0 for the Lakers. Late in the period, the RedHawks continued to test the Laker defense and were finally able to break through with just over a minute left before the second intermission to make it 2-1. In the third period, GVSU locked things down defensively and Boutin turned away all 15 shots the RedHawks put his way. With just over five minutes left in the game, Zuelch added a little security for Grand Valley when he scored his second goal of the game. Boutin made 24 saves in the victory to send the Lakers to the MCRHL Division 1
Championship game for the third time in four years.
Game Four (Championship game)– Michigan State University
The Division 1 Championship game pitted the Lakers against the Spartans for the second time in less than 24 hours. Right from the opening puck drop it was evident how closely contested this game would be and neither team was willing to give the other much room to work. The two teams battled back and forth but despite GVSU holding an 11-7 edge in shots, neither were able to get on the scoreboard. The second period saw each team religiously stick to their game plans, with neither being willing to push things offensively and risk giving something up. Late in the period, it looked like the two teams would head into the third period deadlocked in a 0-0 tie. However, after a second straight penalty against the Lakers, the Spartans were given a prime opportunity to break the tie. The Grand Valley penalty-kill and Boutin looked up to the task but a goal-mouth scramble led to the puck somehow squeaking through and barely crossing the goal line for the Spartans to take a 1-0 lead. In the third period, the Lakers continued to push and generate quality chances in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, despite a number of close calls, Grand Valley was unable to find the equalizer. With the Lakers' goalie on the bench for an extra-attacker in the final moments, MSU was able to put the game away with an empty-net goal to make it 2-0 with just 23 seconds remaining. Boutin made 31 saves in the game for GVSU.
Game One in the Best of 3 Championship Series – Michigan State University
The Division 3 Lakers fell behind 1-0 less than a minute and a half into the first game of the championship series. The score remained 1-0 throughout the second period and into the third until MSU added to their lead just over two minutes into the third period. The Lakers were not going to go away without a fight, though down by two goals. Junior defenseman Jeremy Schmaltz finally got Grand Valley on the board with a goal just 50 seconds after MSU's second goal. Just 50 seconds later, the game was knotted at 2-2 following a goal from the Lakers' Dan Nielsen, a sophomore forward. Despite numerous chances for both teams to take the lead later in the third period, neither team could break the tie and the game would need extra-time to be decided. Following the third period, the teams would head to full twelve minute, continuous overtime periods until a winner was decided. The pace seemingly slowed in overtime with each team playing more cautiously as to not make a mistake and afford the other team an opportunity to end the game. One overtime period proved to not be enough and the teams headed to a second overtime. Just under two minutes into the second overtime period, a MSU defender was able to get a shot through from the point and find the back of the net to end the game. Junior goaltender Anthony Benvenuti made 25 saves in the game for the Lakers.
Game Two in the Best of 3 Championship Series – Michigan State University
The Lakers entered game two knowing that they must win to keep their hopes of earning an MCRHL Championship alive. Midway through the first period, while on the penalty kill, freshman defenseman Andrew Budai made a great play to break up a pass between MSU players and took off on a breakaway. Budai took advantage of the opportunity and beat the Spartan goaltender for a 1-0 lead. The lead turned out to short lived though, as State would eventually score and tie the game in their remaining time on the powerplay. The Lakers regained the lead with 25 seconds left in the second period with a goal off the stick of junior forward Carl Soderling. However, the Spartans again had a quick answer, scoring with 3.8 seconds left before the second intermission. In the third period, junior forward Tyler Glenfield scored to put GVSU up 3-2 with 7:48 left in regulation. Continuing the trend, MSU battled back once again to tie the game 3-3 with 3:28 left. With 1:10 left in the third period, State converted on a turnover and scored to take their first lead of the game. Like they had earlier on Saturday in the first game of the series, the Lakers continued to battle until the final buzzer. Following a timeout, the Lakers pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and were able to get set up in the offensive zone. Their resiliency paid off once again with 11 seconds left in regulation as freshman defenseman Kyle Kozler was able to hammer home a big rebound following a shot from Schmaltz to tie the game 4-4. For the second straight game, the Lakers and Spartans needed extra time to decide a winner. The two teams entered overtime, their 9th period in two games, with the Spartans holding a slight edge in shots. This time around the game would be decided much quicker with Michigan State applying early pressure and were able to convert on a rebound of their own, scoring the game, and series, winning goal just 58 seconds into the extra frame. Laker junior goaltender Dan Raicevich made 28 saves in the contest.
With both Laker teams coming up just short of regional championships and the autobids to the NCRHA National Tournament, each team now awaits the release of the at-large bids for next month's tournament in Fort Myers, Florida.