By Dave Tomczak
Local Sports Journal

BIG RAPIDS – A year after falling in the state quarterfinals, Reeths-Puffer battled back from an early deficit to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

Trailing 2-0 at the end of the first period, the Rockets scored three second period goals and added two more in the third to earn a spot in the Division 2 semifinals with a 5-3 win over Saginaw Heritage Tuesday at Ferris State University.

“We just needed to continue to battle,” Puffer coach Eric Sikkenga said about the first period. “We outplayed them, but we were down two goals. We told them to just stay the coarse and dictate the play.”

Kyle Kendra lead the comeback, scoring four goals, two in the second and third periods. The Rockets advance to Thursdays state semifinal against Hartland, a 3-2 winner over Berkley.

The game will be played at 5 p.m. at Compuware Arena in Plymouth.

Kendra’s first goal, on the power play in the second period, cut the Saginaw Heritage lead to 2-1.

“The biggest thing is that we didn’t have a power play in the first period,” Sikkenga said. “With our skill guys and our speed, if we aren’t drawing penalties we aren’t working hard enough.”

But despite pulling within a goal with the extra attacker, the Rockets failed to take advantage of its next man advantage, allowing the Hawks to score short-handed and take a 3-1 lead midway through the second.

“That was a time where the guys could’ve put their heads down and look for excuse,” Sikkenga added. “But the guys didn’t”

Instead, Kendra and Josh Smith added goals late in the period and the teams headed to the third period tied at 3-all.

With two goals and an assist already in the game, Kendra would score twice more in the final period and goalie Jake Vander Lee would deny Saginaw Heritage any comeback attempt.

The Hawks outshot the Rockets 28-26, as Vander Lee finished with 25 saves and Smith had three assists.

“Our penalty killing was fantastic tonight and Kyle was lights out,” Sikkenga said. “It’s not anything different then what we’ve seen all year, but to do it in the quarterfinals is big. We really played team hockey tonight, especially in crunch time.”