Hibbard, Bucs claim first-ever regional title

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:17 PM

First, it was Asa Pellegrom, decking the Forest Hills Northern/Eastern goalie and popping the puck into the open net before pumping his first toward the crowd.

Two minutes later, it was teammate Ian Hibbard, flipping the puck into the net, then skating over to a group of Grand Haven classmates and celebrating along the boards.

A minute later, Hibbard scored again, and the rout was on.

Those three goals, in a span of just over 3 minutes late in the second period, propelled Grand Haven's varsity hockey team to an inspiring 6-2 victory over Forest Hills in the Division 2 regional finals.

"It's awesome," Hibbard said. "I've never had this feeling before. It's great."

The victory gives Grand Haven its first-ever hockey regional championship in the program’s 13-year history. The Bucs advance to Tuesday's quarterfinals, where they'll face Saginaw Heritage, which upset No. 5-ranked Escanaba on Saturday.

Forest Hills scored the game's first goal when Sam Rennaker — a former teammate of Bucs' goalie Zach Kooi — fired a puck into the net less than a minute into the game.

The Bucs responded less than a minute later when Hayden Modaff scored, assisted by Hibbard.

Defenseman Tyler Ploeg then scored unassisted to give the Buccaneers a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

Rennaker scored again for the Huskies early in the second period to tie the game at 2-2, then the Bucs committed back-to-back penalties and were forced to kill off a pair of power plays.

Forest Hills Northern/Eastern peppered Kooi with shot after shot, and the Buccaneer goalie stood tall, keeping his team in the game while they figured out how to deal with the Huskies' aggressive style of play.

"One of the things we needed to work on was our breakouts," said Kooi, who stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced. Grand Haven had just 19 shots on goal. "They were picking off passes really good on us, but we were able to capitalize on our chances in the second."

Bucs' coach Dan Gadbois said his team did a great job of staying patient and picking its spots.

"We told them before the game, we've got to play defensive hockey," Gadbois said. "That's how we've been winning all year, being patient and picking our opportunities. That's exactly what we did.

"We didn't panic when we got tied up. We stayed patient, picked our opportunities, and it worked out for us."

First, the Bucs' James Dyksterhouse found Pellegrom streaking into the Huskies' zone. Pellegrom skated in one-on-one with goalie Mike Peuler. Pellegrom dragged the puck across to his forehand and flipped the puck into the open net.

Two minutes later, Hayden Modaff fed the puck ahead to Hibbard, who raced in and beat Peuler for a 4-2 lead. Hibbard and a pair of teammates skated over to where a group of Buccaneers' fans  — some dressed in retro Grand Haven hockey jerseys —were seated along the glass, to celebrate.

Less than a minute later, the Bucs' Tom Zelenka made a great move to weave his way through traffic into Forest Hills' zone, then slid a pass across to Hibbard for another goal, sparking off another celebration among the Bucs on the ice and their fans in the stands.

"That was my 100th point of my high school career, so I was really excited," Hibbard said of his first goal. "After that, we kind of turned it up a notch and we didn't look back."

Gadbois said the Bucs changed up their game plan after the flurry of goals to end the second period.

"After that, we wanted to get into the locker room and talk about how we were going to ice the game," he said. "Get the puck up and in, make them work for it, wind down that clock."

The Bucs boast 14 seniors on their roster, and Gadbois said that group in particular has been instrumental at helping the program reach new heights.

"The team's on cloud nine, and they deserve it," he said. "We've been working on this since the summertime. This is the toughest schedule we've ever had, and we did that for a reason. We knew we were going to lose games, people aren't going to come watch us, but we did it for a purpose, and that purpose was for the playoffs.

"I couldn't be more proud of the whole team, but especially these seniors, they deserve this."

The Bucs received great play from their defenders, including Ploeg and Jake Poel, who logged a lot of minutes on the ice. 

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