Plymouth — After a two-season lapse, Detroit Catholic Central is back on top of Michigan high school hockey.
Catholic Central defeated Saginaw Heritage, 3-1, on Saturday at USA Hockey Arena to take the Division 1 hockey title, the 14th in team history.
"I'm so proud of our leaders, our captains, our seniors. They all stepped up and made big plays," Catholic Central coach Brandon Kaleniecki said.
Last season, Catholic Central was knocked out in the semis.
"It's always hard to see a good group of guys lose, it's tragic," senior forward Mitch Morris said about Catholic Central's seniors from last year. "It's great to celebrate, but it's bittersweet. I feel bad for them. I hope all the underclassmen realize it's not that easy."
Catholic Central (29-1-1) outshot Heritage 47-14, carrying the play for most of the game with stifling defense.
Detroit Catholic Central coach and players talk to media after winning 2019 Division 1 hockey title Eric Coughlin, The Detroit News
"We've had a lot of tight games during the season," Kaleniecki said. "When you're able to play six defensemen that are capable of doing the job that they did it takes a lot of weight off our shoulders knowing that the door will be shut on the other end."
Catholic Central drew first blood. Senior forward Rylan Clemons sped down the left wing, stepped through a defender and roofed it with very little space left to maneuver, putting Catholic Central up, 1-0, with 7:38 left in the first period. The goal was assisted by junior forward Kyle Gaffney.
"We had a chat the other day because he (Clemons) was starting to grip his stick," Kaleniecki said. "Yesterday he had a couple that didn't go in. We knew he was going to break through. It was a phenomenal goal. It was a game-breaking type play."
Catholic Central out-shot Heritage (29-2) by 12 shots in the first and second periods. Heritage goalie Jack Jesko did his best to keep things close. With 7:29 left in the second period the senior sprawled out to make a glove save in front of a gaping net.
Jesko made 44 saves in the losing effort, the fifth-most in a championship game.
Saginaw Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger and senior goalie Jack Jesko talk to media following finals loss Eric Coughlin, The Detroit News
"He (Jesko) stepped up and gave us a chance to win," Heritage coach J.J. Bamberger said. "He's been dialed in all year long. The best thing about him is the amnesia he has. He never lets a goal get him down. I think you could see his athleticism on several saves today."
"I was just trying to throw my glove out and give us a chance," Jesko said about his big save. "I happened to hit it. I just kept focus and tried to act like it was a normal save, not get too high or too low. I was seeing the ice good."
Catholic Central had a 1-0 lead at the second intermission but had several good scoring chances it hadn't cashed in on.
Catholic Central finally broke through on a shot from the point with 10:41 left. Senior forward Ryan Marra tipped senior defenseman Luke Collins' shot into the top of the net and Catholic Central was up, 2-0.
Things got interesting with 1:56 left when, with the goalie pulled, Heritage senior forward Eddie Symons buried a shot to pull his team within one, but Marra answered with an empty-netter with 54 seconds left to effectively end it.
The final four appearance marks the fifth for Heritage with no titles.