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Plymouth — Two minutes into the third period with a bid to the Division 3 hockey state title game on the line, Livonia Churchill’s Josh Friend made the play of his life. He stole the puck in Riverview Gabriel Richard’s zone and scored an unassisted go-ahead goal that would prove to be the winner in Churchill’s 3-1 triumph Friday.

Churchill advances to play in Saturday’s state championship game against Detroit Country Day, which defeated Hancock, 2-1.

“(The win) means so much to the team, to the boys,” Friend said. “Our team had a lot of energy. Energy is a big thing on our team.”

The game was tightly-contested throughout, but Churchill’s two-goal outburst in the third period was the difference.

Friend’s two goals put Churchill ahead and Zack Vendittelli’s unassisted goal with four minutes to play shut the door on Gabriel Richard’s comeback hopes.

While Friend’s second goal was the clincher, his first changed the momentum in Churchill’s favor.

“We have tremendous respect for our opponent,” senior captain Conor Burnette said. “We knew they work hard and we had to work harder. That was 100 percent sheer effort that got (Friend) that goal on that play.”

Both third-period goals came on steals deep in Gabriel Richard’s zone as Churchill took chances that paid major dividends.

“I think (the gritty play) is really a testament to the character and the culture of especially Friend and Burnette, who have built a culture of competition over these four years,” Churchill coach Jason Reynolds said. “It’s a testament to those guys. Just how much adversity these guys have endured during the season, there have been a lot of roadblocks along the way and these guys have navigated all those roadblocks.”

Not many expected Churchill (16-11-3) to be in this position when the season began. Even when the playoffs started, it was tough to see a team that hadn’t won more than two games in a row all season win five in a row to make its first-ever state championship appearance.

Gabriel Richard was vying for just its second appearance in the Division 3 state championship game; the first was in 2003.

“Probably one of the most important things (during the playoff run) was that everyone accepted their roles and responsibility,” Gabriel Richard coach Rick Desana said. “I think it’s tremendous (to make it this far). You can’t replace that type of game experience as far as for future years.”

Josh Wiseman scored the lone goal for Gabriel Richard (18-12) in the first period.

“One way or another we know the season ends tomorrow,” Reynolds said of the title game. “I think everybody is feeling confident now. Now, we just have to do homework on our opponents. We have to be ready to adjust our game plan on the fly and just continue to play our style, too, and hope for the best.

“No matter what happens from this point on, we are incredibly proud.”

More Division 3

Detroit Country Day 2, Hancock 1: Harrison Dunbar scored the winning goal at 14:40 of the third period. Dallas Hood also scored for Country Day (27-2-1) while Trevor Tchida tallied on the power play for Hancock (23-7). Sam Evola made 17 saves for the Yellowjackets and Dawson Kero made 31 for Hancock.

HOCKEY SEMIFINALS

At USA Hockey Arena, Plymouth

Division 2

Thursday

Hartland 9, Ada Forest Hills Northern/Eastern 1

Trenton 3, Birmingham Brother Rice 2

Division 1

Friday

Saginaw Heritage 3, Traverse City West 2, OT

Brighton 2, Detroit Catholic Central 1

Division 3

Friday

Livonia Churchill 3, Riverview Gabriel Richard 1

Detroit Country Day 2, Hancock 1

HOCKEY FINALS

At USA Hockey Arena, Plymouth

Saturday

Division 2, Hartland vs. Trenton, 10 a.m.

Division 3, Livonia Churchill vs. Detroit Country Day, 2 p.m.

Division 1, Saginaw Heritage vs. Brighton, 6 p.m.

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