By Dave Tomczak
Local Sports Journal

PLYMOUTH – It was a another step further in the Reeths-Puffer hockey program, but a step too short for the season.

After reaching the Division 2 state semifinals for the first time in school history, the Rockets did everything in their power to reach the finals at Compuware Arena in Plymouth.

The Rockets unleashed 38 shots, controlled the play for most of the game, but came up short, falling to Hartland 2-1 Thursday. It was a disappointing end for a Puffer team that finishes 19-9-1.

“We carried the play and the kids played extremely well,” R-P coach Eric Sikkenga said. “When you double up shots on a team like that you expect to score more than one goal. We did everything right, but just couldn’t hit the back of the net. It’s bittersweet. We couldn’t play a better game than that.”

The Eagles (20-9-1) would strike first in the game, scoring late in the first period on a goal by Kyle Mazur.

Reeths-Puffer would find the equalizer, 11:29 into the second period, as Derreck Pleimling scored off assists from Alex Lewandoski and Brandon Young.

But only 2:35 later, Chris McRae scored the eventual game-winner for Hartland, scoring on a 4-on-4 opportunity.

While the Rockets would have chances throughout the third to try and pull even, the Eagles were content to clear the puck out of its zone for most of the period.

“They knew they were giving up a lot of shots and playing a lot in their own end,” Sikkenga said. “They were well coached and disciplined, and were not going to give up a real good chance.”

Goalie Jake Vander Lee would head to the bench for Puffer with 1:20 left in the game, but the extra attacker couldn’t pull the Rockets even, despite a desperate flurry of activity around the Eagles net in the closing seconds.

“I have complete respect for both teams, (the game) was a joy to be a part of,” Sikkenga said.

The two teams combined for only four penalties, two each, and Reeths-Puffer finished with a 38-17 shots advantage. Vander Lee had 15 saves and Nick Wineka stopped 37 shots for Hartland.

Despite not moving on to Saturday’s championship game, the semifinals appearance was just another step in the Reeths-Puffer programs move into the elite of high school hockey.

“The legacy for this team and the outgoing players,” Sikkenga said, “with back-to-back regional and conference championships, and a semifinals appearance, helped the program. What these guys have done here is push expectations for the program higher and higher. Often when a team shows up at the semifinals for the first time they struggle, we didn’t. This team is very proud and they should be, they were the classiest and best example of a Reeths-Puffer team.”