Hartland goalie rebounds from rough start, backstops win over Brighton for Thanksgiving tourney title

BRIGHTON — A year ago, Hartland goalie Kameron Ragon introduced himself to the Michigan high school hockey scene during the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational.

Ben Pouliot scored two goals for Hartland in a 4-3 shootout victory over Brighton in the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Ben Pouliot scored two goals for Hartland in a 4-3 shootout victory over Brighton in the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

Ragon, still technically auditioning for the starting job at the time, turned aside 48 of 49 shots to backstop the Eagles to two victories and the championship of the inaugural event. Ragon would go on to finish with a 21-0 record on his way to all-state honors and a state championship.

This weekend, it was the coming-out party for senior goalie Colin Babcock.

Babcock, returning to the net after a rough debut against Detroit Catholic Central, earned both victories as Hartland repeated as tournament champion.

After making 19 saves Friday in a 4-1 victory over Riverview Gabriel Richard in the semifinals, Babcock made 24 in regulation time and was 3-for-3 in the shootout as Hartland beat archrival Brighton 4-3 in the championship game Saturday at Kensington Valley Ice House.

Babcock ended the game by making a save on second-team all-state forward Lane Petit on the final attempt in the shootout.

Hartland goalie Colin Babcock stopped Lane Petit on this breakaway in regulation time and on the final shot of a 4-3 shootout victory on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Hartland goalie Colin Babcock stopped Lane Petit on this breakaway in regulation time and on the final shot of a 4-3 shootout victory on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” Babcock said. “Big rivalry. It was amazing.

“All I know is I really had to save that guy. He was chirping me the whole game. He was the last one, so I had to make the big save.”

Babcock was thrown to the wolves in his Hartland debut against powerful Detroit Catholic Central. He was pulled 12 seconds into the second period after allowing his fourth goal on 11 shots in a 7-1 loss to the three-time defending state Division 1 champion.

“I give Colin a lot of credit,” Gadwa said. “That’s a tough first one for him and he’s had to claw back. (Friday) was his first game back. He earned another spot today with (Friday’s) performance and he performed again. Those are two big bounce-back games for him. It’s always good when goaltenders can gain confidence.

“It’s a good win for Colin. To be honest, we still have a healthy battle going in net. We were close to giving Brady Hubenschmidt another start today. He played well in his last game and, honestly, kept us in that Stevenson one. You’ll see him go again pretty quick here, and we’ve got more coming. It’s just going to be a healthy battle in net until guys can do what Colin did consistently here this weekend.”

Hartland's Lucas Henry put a shot past Brighton goalie Levi Pennala for the only goal during the shootout that decided the championship of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Hartland's Lucas Henry put a shot past Brighton goalie Levi Pennala for the only goal during the shootout that decided the championship of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

After allowing goals to Evan Wohlart and Dominic Vincent in the first period, the only goal Babcock surrendered over the final 37 minutes and 53 seconds was a power-play goal by defenseman Mattix McMullen, who tied the game with 8:46 left in the third period.

Lucas Henry scored Hartland’s first goal to tie it 1-1 on the power play with 4:16 left in the first period and Ben Pouliot scored the others late in periods, connecting with 27.8 seconds left in the first and 9.3 seconds left in the second.

In the shootout, Babcock stopped Brighton’s three most dangerous snipers — Vincent (five goals), Cameron Duffany (three) and Petit (five).

“It’s really nerve-racking, all those people watching, just me one-on-one with the other kid, but we pulled it off, played good as a group,” Babcock said. “We struggled in the beginning, but we’re coming back, clicking as a team.”

Hartland's Braden Pietila (right) tries to slow Brighton's Dominic Vincent during the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Hartland's Braden Pietila (right) tries to slow Brighton's Dominic Vincent during the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

Henry scored on Hartland’s first shot of the shootout, starting out slowly on the left side of the rink before cutting toward the middle and burying a wrist shot from 10 feet out.

Brighton's Evan Wohlart scored the first goal in a 4-3 shootout loss to Hartland in the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Brighton's Evan Wohlart scored the first goal in a 4-3 shootout loss to Hartland in the championship game of the Kensington Valley Thanksgiving Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

“I was waiting to see what was open,” Henry said. “Low goal was open. I just shot it and it went in.

“It’s definitely nerve-racking. You don’t want to do something that would fumble the puck or make mistakes. So, I just try to keep it simple by shooting it and limiting my mistakes on it.”

The Eagles, who started the season 0-2 for the first time since 2004-05, evened their record at 2-2 with the tournament victories. Hartland, ranked No. 2, has played three of the top four teams in Division 1. The Eagles are 10-0-2 against Brighton since losing 1-0 on Feb. 21, 2015.

“Teams need this,” Gadwa said. “They need the adversity that we’ve experienced early and they need to overcome it and have scenarios like last night and today where we just get better, stronger as a group and find a way to execute. It was a good step in the right direction, for sure.”

Brighton, which won a wild 7-6 decision over Muskegon Mona Shores in the semifinals, is also 2-2.

“I think there’s a lot of learning opportunities,” Brighton coach Kurt Kivisto said. “(Friday) we gave up six goals and we gave up three today. Both of those are numbers we don’t like. There’s a lot to learn from it. We’re inexperienced on the back end. A lot of guys got a lot of valuable opportunity against two really good opponents this weekend.”

Hartland outshot Brighton, 35-27.

The teams will meet again at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at Hartland Sports Center in a KLAA matchup. They could also meet in the final four of the state Division 1 playoffs at USA Hockey Arena now that Hartland has moved from Division 2 to Division 1.

Contact Bill Khan at wkhan@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Hartland goalie rebounds from rough start, backstops win over Brighton