The Hartland hockey team finished the month of January with an 8-1 record since the turn of the calendar year, still ranked No. 1 statewide in Division 2 and having earned the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and overall championships.
But those achievements didn’t come easily. Not even close.
The MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for January has had its share of success over the last decade, with Division 2 championships in 2018 and 2019 and runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014. But the Eagles’ January run made an impressive statement as the team builds toward another possible title run.
Hartland earned five of those eight January wins over ranked teams, improved a 9-3 record after December to 17-4 by the start of February. The lone loss in January came 2-1 to Division 3 top-ranked Flint Powers Catholic.
“It’s nice when it all comes together, because you can say it was part of the plan. But we knew we were going to have to take a step after the new year, and we discussed that as a group,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “The big thing is our schedule was ramping up even more. December was hard enough, but then if you look at that track that we had in January, we knew it was going to be tough.
“The guys just took that with a little bit of a drive and wanted to try and run the slate. Obviously, it’s a really hard thing to do, and we did have that loss and we could’ve had a couple of others. But we had some great learning experiences in January … and gained some confidence.”
Hartland’s 2-1 win over Division 1 No. 2 Brighton on Jan. 15 paved the way for the KLAA West title, and the Eagles avenged a November loss to Division 2 No. 2 Livonia Stevenson with a 3-1 win Jan. 26 to earn the overall KLAA championship.
Hartland also won the Westside Invitational by defeating Division 2 No. 5 Byron Center 7-3 and No. 6 Muskegon Mona Shore 3-2 in overtime despite missing Gadwa, who was ill. The Byron Center win avenged last year’s Quarterfinal loss to the Bulldogs, and the Eagles didn’t lead against Mona Shores until scoring the deciding goal.
Earlier in the month, Hartland also came back to win 6-4 over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, the No. 3-ranked team in Division 3.
“These guys just have this calmness about them, and I appreciate that group,” Gadwa said. “They’re a skilled group, and to see how this group stayed the course when things aren’t going well for them, it’s a trait that’s tough to get high school teams to buy into at times. I’m just appreciative for how they’ve been able to grasp that adversity and overcome it and adjust.”
Hartland is up to 19-5, and has received contributions from throughout the roster. Fourteen of 16 skaters have scored, all 16 have at least three points and 10 Eagles have at least 10 points.
Seniors Ashton Trombley (18 goals, 14 assists) and Jack Paweski (17 goals, 12 assists) lead five players with at least 11 goals, followed on the points list by juniors Lucas Henry (11 goals, 17 assists), Ben Pouliot (11/16) and Braden Pietila (11/15) and assists leader Brendan Pietila (7/19). Senior Kameron Ragon is 15-0 in goal with a 1.19 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
The Eagles face Division 1 No. 6 Saginaw Heritage tonight before beginning Division 2 Regional play next week at Dort Federal Event Center in Flint.
“Every team has to define themselves,” Gadwa said, “and they’re doing a good job of that.”