Pioneer hockey's season ends with 3-2 double-overtime loss in state quarterfinal
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
Stevenson beat Pioneer seemingly to every loose puck and ripped shot after shot at goaltender Karl Gage.
Time and fatigue was a great equalizer, though, and by the time the second overtime came, it was the Pioneers and not the Spartans, seemingly one step ahead.
But overtime can be a cruel beast, especially in the playoffs, when a bad bounce can determine not just a game, but a season.
That was the case for the Pioneers on Tuesday as after Stevenson’s Michael Sinclair lifted a rebound over the outstretched leg pad of Gage to give Stevenson a 3-2 win and a berth in Friday’s state semifinals at Compuware Arena in Plymouth.
Stevenson players crashed into the boards creating a formidable dog pile on top of Sinclair.
The Pioneer players were slower to assemble, but eventually all made their way to Gage to offer condolences after his 31-save performance.
While Gage skated slowly toward the locker room with his head down, truth be told there never would have been overtime had it not been for his play, particularly in the first period.
“He played phenomenal,” said Pioneer coach Paul Fassbender. “If you would have told me he would have did that a year ago I would have laughed at you.”
The Pioneers end their season at 20-8-1 in Fassbender’s first full year as head coach and with a regional title to show for it.
“I think we shocked a lot of people theis year. I don’t think anybody expected us to get where we were,” Fassbender said.
Certainly no one would have expected that Pioneer could have hung around long enough to force overtime with Stevenson after the first 10 minutes of the game. Though Pioneer led 1-0 after an unassisted goal from William Rudburg, Stevenson was in complete control of the game.
Except, of course, for the part where the puck has to go in the net.
“We had to weather the storm. Every scouting report out there was how fast they were that we weren’t going to be able to match their speed or their skill, so we came out in a bit a defensive shell for a bit,” Fassbender said.
Stevenson cracked through that shell with a pair of goals in the second period, but by the third period it was no longer the Spartans pushing play and the Pioneers hanging on for dear life.
By the third period the opposite was true.
“Our trainer works them extremely hard and our third period’s been our best period all year long. We’ve opened things up and done extremely well in the third and I thought we did that here in today,” Fassbender said.
That work paid of when Anthony Moran evened the score at 2-2 8:28 into the third.
Though Pioneer pushed the pace at the end of the third and during most of the two overtimes, Sinclair was in the right place at the right time when a rebound found his stick and he lifted it over Gage’s right leg pad and into the net.
“It’s a bitter one,” Fassbender said of the loss. “I think we had more legs than them for a while and we started bringing pressure and played really well.”
Connor Humitz finished with 16 saves for Stevenson.