Grand Haven varsity hockey coach Dan Gadbois was searching for answers to why his team started so poorly against Saginaw Heritage in the Division 2 quarterfinals at Ewigleben Ice Arena on the campus of Ferris State University.
"We just didn't have a good start. Period," he said. "Probably the worst one this year. The way we played, we would have had trouble against a peewee team."
Maybe it was a hangover from the Bucs' long-awaited victory on Saturday, he said, which clinched the program's first-ever regional championship.
Or maybe Grand Haven just ran into a Saginaw Heritage squad that thrived with impressive bursts of speed, which helped the Hawks tracking down pucks, and a knack and finishing around the net.
Simply put, the plays Grand Haven expected to make were instead produced by the Hawks.
The Hawks (24-5) silenced the Bucs by firing in three first-period goals, including an especially stinging shorthanded effort to open the scoring, and Grand Haven could never claw itself back in the 4-1 final.
The loss ends Grand Haven's magical postseason run in which they turned in an impressive upset of No. 2-ranked Traverse City Central, and a dominating effort against Forest Hills Northern/Eastern to reach unchartered territory in the quarterfinal round.
The Hawks' win sends them to the state semifinals for the third time in program history. They'll face Livonia Stevenson on Thursday in Plymouth.
"They had some pretty good speed and their passing was right on," said Grand Haven captain Tom Zelenka. "And they had a lot of opportunities in front of the net that they took advantage of, and the same type of chances that we didn't finish."
Grand Haven got onto the board with 4:20 remaining in the period, as senior forward Asa Pellegrom snuck a close-range shot past Hawks' goalie Kevin Cressey that sent a strong Grand Haven cheering section to their feet in excitement. The assist was credit to senior Patrick Ferris.
The thrills would be short-lived, however, as a tripping call on Zelenka put the Hawks on the power play with just under two minutes left in the period and they responded quickly. Tyler Angers delivered a stellar pass through the crease to Jacob Swartz, who scored on the backside to make it 3-1.
"We gave up three pucks, which is just inexcusable, but that goal, you can't blame them," Gadbois said. "(Heritage) is a fine, fine hockey team. They're a hard-working team and they deserved to win."
The Bucs' pride was even more deflated early in the second, as Angers skated alongside the boards and fired from just inside the blue line. It struck Kooi's pad and somehow skipped into the net, leaving the Bucs' senior netminder looking to the rafters in disbelief.
Gadbois thought his team responded well after falling behind 4-1, as they unleashed 12 shots at Cressey, but none that really made his heart skip a beat.
"Once we came out of that fog (in the first period), I thought we played right with them," Gadbois said. "With any luck at all, we would have had some opportunities. But their goaltender played really well. Give them credit."
Cressey recorded 21 saves as did his counterpart from Grand Haven, Kooi.
Read more of this story in today's print edition or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.