Ann Arbor — It’s been three years since Detroit Catholic Central won a Division 1 state hockey title. That might not seem like a long time, but for a program that has been dominating the high-school ranks for decades it seems like an eternity.
Catholic Central came one step closer to reaching the state title game with a thrilling 1-0 win over Salem on Wednesday night in the quarterfinal.
“You find a way to win,” Catholic Central coach Brandon Kaleniecki said. “It wasn’t pretty, at times. We got the (goal) that mattered and we were able to close down the other side of it.”
Zach Borchardt scored the only goal.
Last season, Catholic Central (27-1-1) lost a heartbreaker to fellow Division 1 powerhouse Brighton in the semifinal, and the in 2017, it was that same team which knocked Kaleniecki’s team out in the Division 1 final. This year’s team was poised to make amends for those postseason defeats.
It wasn’t easy as Salem (14-13) put up a heck of a fight, holding a Catholic Central team that has scored at least six goals in six of its past seven games scoreless through one period in a 0-0 tie.
The second and third periods saw more of the same as Salem played one of their best games of the year defensively, but came up just short.
“After this game, there’s nothing to hang our heads about,” Salem coach Ryan Ossenmacher said. “For a defensive effort, that’s as good as it gets.”
In the end, it was the Division 1 Goliath who emerged victorious thanks to its incredible defensive effort which included a perfectly executed 5-on-3 penalty kill in the third period.
“I owe it all to my defensemen,” Catholic Central goalie Stephen Sleva said. “I really can’t take any credit for these games. They keep the shots low. They’re the ones doing the work.”
The Catholic Central defense only allowed 11 shots and hasn’t allowed a goal since the first round of the playoffs with three straight shutouts.
Borchardt scored three minutes into the second period, assisted by Gordie Husted and Ryan Pearson.
“It’s just so frustrating,” Borchardt said about watching shot after shot saved by Salem’s goalie. “You’ve got to tip your cap to (Salem’s goalie), he played outstanding.”
Austin Goleniak had one of the best games of his career in goal for Salem, stopping the high-powered Catholic Central offense, for the most part, despite getting peppered by shots.
“We executed (our defense) perfectly,” Ossenmacher said. “That only happens when you commit 100 percent effort and we did that the whole game.”
While Catholic Central won’t get a playoff rematch with Brighton this year as it was bounced in the second round, it did exact revenge earlier in the season with a 4-1 win.
Since that win, Catholic Central is 16-0-1, allowing more than one goal three times.
“We played very well defensively,” Kaleniecki said. “Our goalie made the saves when he needed to as well. It was a team effort.”
Catholic Central will face Rochester Adams in the Division 1 semifinals on Friday at USA Hockey Arena where it has played well historically, making five of the past six state title games.
The seniors are looking to cap off their career where it started: with a win in the state championship.
“We always reference the seniors,” Kaleniecki said. “You have to make sure they understand that they go out playing their best game whether that’s a win or a loss.”
Connor Muldowney is a freelance writer.
Traverse Bay Reps 4, Byron Center 3 (OT)
Saginaw Heritage 5, DeWitt 2
Rochester United 4, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 3
Detroit Catholic Central 1, Salem 0
Marquette 4, Petoskey 1
Hartland 6, Forest Hills Northern/Eastern 0
Birmingham Brother Rice 6, Port Huron Northern 5
Trenton 3, Livonia Stevenson 2
Houghton 4, Alpena 1
East Grand Rapids 6, Big Rapids 0
Detroit Country Day 6, U-D Jesuit 1
Riverview Gabriel Richard 4, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 3 (OT)