Peter Rosa tips the scales in Brother Rice Hockey’s 4-1 win over Birmingham Unified in Regional Final
OAK PARK – Peter Rosa strolled casually across the middle of the ice waiting for the referee’s whistle. Junior striker Brother Rice was set to take on the Birmingham Unified keeper for his first shot on goal attempt of the season – and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.
Moments before, Brother Rice held a 2-1 lead over Birmingham Unified, but he tried to kill their second 5-on-3 disadvantage of the contest. Despite losing two skaters, Rosa was able to intercept the puck and head for the ice on a breakaway. He was hooked before he had a chance to net the puck.
With the option of accepting a two-minute penalty against Birmingham or taking a penalty, Brother Rice coach Kenny Chaput made the easy decision to give his top scorer a chance to extend the lead.
Rosa knew he had to pull through for his team.
“I guess they all believed in me,” Rosa said, admitting he was nervous before his attempt.
Once Rosa’s stick hit the puck at center ice, there was no turning back. Having no special tricks up his sleeve before the attempt, Rosa said he just wanted to see what the keeper could give him.
As Rosa crossed the blue line, the puck started rolling on its edge. After enough time, the puck calmed down. He faked a shot, hit twice, and drove the puck home with his backhand along the ice between the goalie’s left skate and the post.
“I jerked him off at first,” Rosa said. “I was like, ‘This isn’t going to look good.’ But I succeeded, so it was good.
Just like that, Rice went from going 5-on-3 with her one-goal advantage in jeopardy to owning a 3-1 lead with 9:55 left in the third period. Rice (13-13-1) killed off the rest of the 5-on-3 to claim a 4-1 victory over Birmingham (20-6-1), also securing a Division 2 region championship.
“At 5-3, you have the option to take both minutes,” Chaput said. “But a goal right there puts the dagger, and that’s what we did. Of all the breakaways he’s had this year, this is the first he’s buried alone, so it was a good time to do it.
Rosa’s goal and the 5-on-3 penalty was all the impetus the Warriors needed to pull apart in what was a tight game.
“The special teams, we talked about it, said Chaput. “We have to win the special teams battle. You don’t want to lower yourself to 5v3 (and) you certainly don’t want to do it twice in a game, but they stuck with it. They blocked shots when they needed it, they blocked the lanes and they didn’t give up too many quality shots.
Brother Rice main striker Luke Washe also had a significant impact on the game by scoring two goals sandwiched around Rosa’s. Washe was in the right place at the right time for his first goal as he buried a rebound off a shot by junior forward Jack Schwartz with 1:19 left in the second period, breaking the tie for the 2-1 lead .
“It definitely ignited the locker room,” Washe said. “It’s good, a lead in the third period is good, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m glad we came back and put in a few more and won the game.
Before the 5-on-3 penalty that led to Rosa’s eventual penalty shot, Washe knew they would get the job done.
“We’ve got a hell of a shorthanded team,” Washe said. “That’s exactly what it is. I just won all the battles.
Washe’s second goal was a solid individual effort, as he created a short breakaway from the near blue line after the Birmingham defenseman lost control of the puck.
“He’s done it all year for us and he’s still doing it,” Chaput said with a smile. “I hope he does it a few more times.”
Despite entering the state tournament with an 11-13-1 record, Rice is still ranked No. 4 in Division 2 as he aims to defend his 2021 state title. Although Rice wants to win more in the regular season, Chaput said he deliberately put together what he thinks is the toughest schedule in the state in hopes it will pay off in March.
“Everything we do during the year leads to this time of year,” Chaput said. “We haven’t had the best of the regular seasons, but at the end of the day people forget that when you get it right at the end. So we are ready and hope to have a good race ahead of us.
Chaput’s players share his feeling.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you end,” Rosa said. “We come together at the right time, and when we play our best game, I don’t think anyone touches us. So, I’m pretty excited.
Junior Brother Rice goalkeeper Tommy O’Donnell finished the game with 26 saves while Birmingham keeper Henry Ellenbogen stopped 34 shots.
Birmingham opened the scoring just 1:43 from the start on their first shot on goal as senior defender Carson Wood scored after coming just inside the blue line as he entered the area. Birmingham’s lead was short-lived, however, as Brother Rice equalized just 52 seconds later as senior striker Parker Young buried a goal with an assist from Ryan Tyranski.
Birmingham had their first chance at 5v3 – worth 1:09 – in the closing stages of the second period, but failed to convert. Washe ended up scoring 4:12 after Birmingham’s power play was over.
“I felt like in the second half we had the momentum for most of the period,” said Birmingham coach Zack Warson. “It was a real backbreaker with a minute to go. I’m proud of our lads. We worked hard to get into a barn and environment like this in a regional final and play well most of the time. We just didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the power play and score timely goals.
With 19 seniors in the Birmingham squad this year, Warson believes his players have paved the way for more success in the future.
“I think they set a bar for what this culture and this team should take forward,” Warson said. “It’s not easy in this state to have a 20-win season in the league and the schedule we’re playing. This group gave me everything. With 19 seniors, you expect a lot of leadership, and we have it. But I think the lasting legacy of this group will be to set the bar for what Birmingham Unified Hockey should be now and in the future. These are games that obviously sting now, but we hope to learn from them and not have that feeling anymore.
Rice will face Romeo on Saturday in the Division 2 quarterfinals. The match is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. at Suburban Ice Macomb.