Frank Welsher says he and his Grosse Pointe South teammates have been underdogs most of this season, but have been able to “out-heart” opponents.
Thanks to Welsher’s thrilling game-winning overtime goal Thursday against Port Huron Northern at in Plymouth, his “underdog” Blue Devils will have a chance to topple powerhouse Brother Rice on Saturday for the state title.
A hungry Port Huron Northern team struck first in the hard-fought Division 2 semifinal, with the Huskies’ Dillon Pfeifer beating Blue Devil goaltender Christopher Shebil 9:16 into the game.
Just 23 seconds later, however, the Blue Devils’ Maxwell Corden tied it at one goal apiece.
Andrew Bigham struck early in the second period with a go-ahead goal for the Blue Devils, who played much of the period shorthanded after taking 7 minor penalties, accounting for 14 of the team’s 16 total penalty minutes during the game.
Northern was unable to capitalize on the Blue Devils’ frequent penalties, however. Jimmy Radatz's second-period penalty shot sailed over the net and Grosse Pointe South subsequently killed a pair of Port Huron Northern power plays after the missed penalty shot.
Austin Ainsworth finally scored the equalizer on the power play for the Huskies at 1:15 into the third period with a 5-on-3 goal assisted by Radatz.
For the remainder of regulation, the energized teams went back and forth with plenty of big hits and close calls, but with neither squad able to find the back of the net.
This carried into the overtime period until Welsher found the inside of the goal post on Matt Fernandez’s stick side with 50 seconds remaining to send his team into the state final.
“Everyone’s telling me I whiffed once or twice,” Welsher said after the game. “But I don’t care, as long as it went in.”
Welsher said when he got the puck, he “fumbled around with it a little bit” when it became caught up in his equipment, but was able to get a shot off over a diving Fernandez.
Up next for the Blue Devils is a battle-tested Brother Rice, which easily disposed of Forest Hills Eastern, 5-0, earlier in the day. The teams face off at 10 a.m. Saturday at Compuware Arena.
“They’re a highly talented team,” coach James Bufalino said. “They’re very well-coached, they’ve got a ton of tradition in that locker room. They come out with a natural swagger because of the tradition that they’ve built over the years.”
Welsher said the Blue Devils might be considered the underdog heading into Saturday’s title game, but that label has worked to his team’s advantage.
“We kind of ‘out-heart’ teams,” Welsher said. “Going into Brother Rice, we might be considered the underdog. We’re going to come out, we’re going to fight, we’re going to outwork and out-heart them and come out as best we can.”