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Special teams leads Hartland past Walled Lake Northern WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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WATERFORD – The Hartland Eagles won an intense physical battle, defeating the host Walled Lake Northern Knights 4-0 in a showdown between the two top teams in the KLAA Lakes Conference.

“They were the better team tonight. It was a good hockey game,” Knights head coach Tim McGraw said.

Both teams came into the game unbeaten in league play and looking to gain an edge in the conference race, and the excitement seemed to spill over onto the ice with both teams coming out playing fast, physical hockey. That physicality occasionally boiled over, most seriously resulting in a fracas with 6:10 to play in the second period that resulted in three ejections. “All the shenanigans on the ice, it was a high emotion game, and these are young men out here,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “So when the emotions get high things happen. I didn’t like that part of the game. But we did fight through it, and we were able to put the puck in the back of their net a few times there in the end and secure the win.”

As the game wore on, special teams became more important and ultimately played a big role in settling the result. With Hartland holding a slim 1-0 lead after two periods, the Eagles were beneficiaries of a long five on three power play early in the third period and Hartland capitalized with two goals. First, Brenden Lipon made it 2-0 by diving after a rebound loose in the crease and shoving it in with his stick. Just 36 seconds later, Spencer Andersen added another power play goal to make it 3-0.

Walled Lake Northern would have its chances, including a full two minute five-on-three later in the third period, but the Hartland penalty killers held on to keep the shutout intact. “There is one thing I really, really enjoyed watching tonight, and that was our five on three penalty kill,” Gadwa said.

“They capitalized when they had the power plays. When it came to special teams, they outperformed us tonight,” McGraw said. “We just have to execute better on special teams, especially against a team like those guys.”

The Knights also had a great chance on a breakaway when it was still just 1-0, but Eagles goaltender Aaron Neighbor made the save to preserve the lead. “We just didn’t convert on our opportunities, on our chances that we had,” McGraw said.

But for much of the game, the Eagles were outstanding in the neutral zone, bottling up the Knights and not giving them a chance to get through the neutral zone with any speed and set up their offense. “We worked on that all week at bottling up the neutral zone,” Gadwa said. “It’s something we haven’t been as strong with in the past, so that was a good adjustment we made compared to the last few games.”

When Walled Lake Northern was able to set up its offense, its cycling game was very effective at creating chances. It wasn’t enough to beat Neighbor, however, who turned in a strong performance by stopping 25 shots to earn the shutout.

At the other end, Nathan Everest also had a good game, stopping 42 shots for Walled Lake Northern to help the Knights stay close.

Zach Sexton and Nick Snyder also scored for Hartland who improves to 9-4 overall and 7-0 in KLAA Lakes Conference play. Walled Lake Northern suffers their first loss of the year to fall to 10-1 overall and 5-1 in KLAA Lakes Conference play. “Hartland’s experience showed,” McGraw said. “But we learned a lot tonight. We’ll gain from tonight’s experience.”

The Knights get a chance to put those lessons to work right way. Walled Lake Northern hosts Waterford United on Saturday in their charity classic benefitting cancer research.

Last Updated: 1/10/2015 6:47:39 PM EST


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