Aidan Ross was in the right place at the right time.
The pass on the two-for-one missed from a break in the fifth minute of extra time, the sophomore in his freshman year at varsity came alongside senior defender Adam Chismar, who threw a shot at the net for the win. The puck shot from Plymouth goalkeeper Tanner Olepas shin guard, straight in the direction of Ross.
Ross stopped the rebound to the freshman’s right at Plymouth, scored the first goal of the high school career and secured Salems’ third straight regional title (8-5), beating the Wildcats (7-7-2), 2-1, in overtime.
The sophomore, realizing he’d won it over the Rocks, ran to the Salem bench, pumping fist, and then throwing his hands in the air triumphantly, immediately swarming by his teammates to celebrate.
We all work insanely hard, Ross said. Nobody ever takes a day off. Everyone is on time to work hard. It was ridiculous hanging out with my friends and having the time of my life.
For Salem head coach Ryan Ossenmacher, Ross scoring the winning goal was merely representative of what Salem has been doing all season: finding a way to win, never depending on what the team gets.
This is this group, Ossenmacher said. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter when. They are all going to participate, they are all going to compete for each other. We say we can be a victim or a survivor, and here we are: survived.
But it almost went the other way.
With 5:29 left in the extra period, Plymouth junior forward Tyler Kelley was hit by Salem sophomore forward Peter Manginen, who fell to the ground. The referee’s whistle was blown, giving the Wildcats a two-minute power play.
In those two minutes, Plymouth’s attack came to life by relentlessly attacking Salem goalkeeper Andre Genereaux and missing the match winner by a hair after pinging the crossbar.
The Salem junior finished with 28 saves, making his only goal with 19.3 seconds to go in the second period when Plymouth senior forward Sam Williams took a rebound after an attempt by Anthony Cassar, leading the game to one head in the third period was scored.
Salem didn’t get his first goal until 7.5 seconds were left in the first period, when senior defender Jacob Keegan van Rocks took a rebound and scored it, assisted by Devan Grayshaw and James Driscoll.
This season, Plymouth played in 10 games decided by one goal or less, recording two draws along with playing in five extra matches.
For Wildcats head coach Darrin Silvester, the regional final was just another example of how his team took the opportunity to avoid setbacks.
I think we faced setbacks because many people did not expect much from us. We’ve worked that through, said Silvester. We lost a lot of scoring and our guys had to balance it out, and our guys worked hard to do that and get everyone to contribute.
My children are very happy in the other room. They hope Salem can win everything. They are their friends and the animosity ended, perhaps not as soon as the buzzer rang, but within a minute.
Ossenmacher knows that Salem has seen quite a bit of setback in the past week, after returning after COVID-19 nearly backed the team on its way to the first round against Dearborn Unified.
Nevertheless, Salem took off with his third regional title in three years and a quarter-final date against Detroit Catholic Central, the fourth consecutive seasons facing the Rocks and the Shamrocks.
Tonight, Wednesday, first game, they played their guts all season, Ossenmacher said. A group of lesser men, this is not possible. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s just such a sweet victory for them and all that they’ve been through.
But Ross left with a little more. Not just a regional championship or some other game to prepare for, but a reminder of his hands raised in victory and harassed by his teammates.
I will never forget this goal, he said.
Salem will face Catholic Central in the Division 1 Quarterfinal, Wednesday at 8pm at the Dearborn Ice Skating Arena.
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