The four-time defending regional champion Gabriel Richard hockey team had its season ended on March 24 when the Pioneers fell 4-1 to Chelsea in a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 quarterfinal game.
Ironically, Richard had beaten Chelsea by the same score in the state quarterfinals a year ago, but that season ended there when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the MHSAA to shut down the remainder of the state tournament.
In this year’s quarterfinal game was played at the Dearborn Ice Skating Center and after a scoreless first period, Richard scored early in the second to take a 1-0 lead.
Nic DiSanto got the goal with an assist from Aiden Wishart.
But for the locals, that would be all the scoring for the night.
Chelsea tied the game midway through the second period and scored three more times in the third, the last goal coming into an empty net with less than two minutes to play.
It was a defensive style game with Chelsea scoring four times on 23 shots and Richard once on 18 shots on goal.
“I think some of our guys were a little spoiled,” admitted Coach Rick DeSana. “We’d been to (the Final Four) two straight times and we beat Chelsea last year.
“We have no seniors on this team, so everyone will be back and I told them, ‘I want you to remember this (losing) feeling and use it next year.’”
Two days after beating Richard, Chelsea fell to Calumet in a Division 3 state semifinal game. Cranbrook beat Flint Powers 4-1 in the other semifinal game and Cranbrook, an 18-time state champ, finished off Calumet in the finals
To win the regional championship, Richard beat Grosse Ile 5-4 and then knocked off Carlson 2-0 in the title game.
The regional championship game was a close-to-the-vest affair.
“Carlson played very well and we played a very conservative style,” said DeSana. “A lot of coaches get real aggressive in the playoffs, I go the other direction. I feel you are likely to lose if you give up odd-man rushes and I don’t think we gave up one of those the whole regional.”
The game with Grosse Ile was a more wide open affair.
Richard took a 2-0 lead and Grosse Ile tied it. Richard took a 5-2 lead and Grosse Ile nearly tied it. The Red Devils had their goalie out and were attacking looking for the tying goal when the final buzzer sounded.
The game was Richard’s first in more than two week after being shut down by COVID-19 protocols.
“It was a good hockey game,” said DeSana. “But just not playing kind of caught up with us. The time off, you could see it on our legs and in our heads as the game went on. People don’t realize that the worst part about being tired is not losing the physical battles out there, it’s the bad decisions that fatigue causes you to make.”
In this shortened season, Richard wound up playing just eight regular season games and only 11 overall. DeSana said it was tough to prepare a team under those circumstances.
“This shows the regular season is extremely important to developing a championship team,” he said. “The most important part of a season is getting the right people in the right place and that takes time and games, which we did not have this year.
“Still, the guys played well and we are happy to have won another regional championship. Hopefully losing (in the quarterfinal) will help us win it all next year.”