Riverview Gabriel Richard took the ice on Thursday night to play its first game in almost a month.
The Pioneers’ return to action was a second-round state playoff game against a tough Grosse Ile team at Yack Arena in Wyandotte.
A three-goal lead for Richard was cut to one late in the contest. However, the Pioneers held on for a 5-4 victory in the Division 3, Region 24 semifinal.
The Red Devils (7-3-2) had advanced to the semifinals with a 3-2 win over Wyandotte Roosevelt on Tuesday in what was a four-overtime marathon.
The last action for Richard, before Thursday, was a Feb. 22 matchup with U-D Jesuit. Soon after, the Pioneers’ season was paused for two weeks after learning that a player from an opposing team had tested positive for COVID-19.
In an effort to avoid another potential exposure from an opponent, head coach Rick DeSana opted to keep his squad out of competition until the postseason got underway.
“It was tough but we just wanted at least the opportunity,” DeSana said. “We took a more conservative route and at least wanted the opportunity to play in the state playoffs.”
On Thursday night, Grosse Ile battled back twice after it appeared that the Pioneers were about to run away with the game.
Richard jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead but the Devils tied it up before the first intermission. Down 5-2 in the third period, Grosse Ile pulled to within one goal.
“Grosse Ile in an excellent hockey team and they have improved tremendously from the start of their season until the end of their season,” DeSana said. “They should be proud of their season; they’re a good hockey team.”
For the Pioneers, it was Vinny Sensoli who opened the scoring with a goal at the 1:16 mark. Nic DiSanto lit the lamp roughly three minutes later, on the power play, to put the group from Riverview up 2-0.
With seven minutes left in the period, the Devils got on the board with a power-play goal from Adam Kargenian. Nolan Karn found the back of the net, with 3:40 remaining, and evened things up at 2-2.
“We have some seniors on our team,” said Grosse Ile coach Jason Durbin. “We’re never going to give up. We’re not going to stop pushing.”
DiSanto netted his second of the night, four minutes into the second period, and kicked off a string of three consecutive Richard goals.
Robbie Chiles cashed in for the Burgundy and White on a power play halfway through the second period. Exactly three minutes into the third, Sebastian Potter beat goaltender Owen Bonham to give Richard a commanding 5-2 lead.
For the night, Bonham and Pioneers goalkeeper Ryan Rainey each had 31 saves.
Grosse Ile got a goal from Ben Carter less than two minutes after Potter scored to pull within two.
Halfway through the final period, the Devils failed to score on a power play but got a break when the Pioneers were quickly whistled for another infraction.
This time around, Travis Symons cashed in and made it a one-goal game with more than four minutes left on the clock.
A fired up Devils team battled to get on the board one more time. However, Richard kept them from generating another good scoring chance before the clock hit zero.
“(Richard’s) a good team and they have been a good team for many, many years now,” Durbin said. “A lot of us other teams are trying to measure ourselves against those guys.
“We didn’t play our best game, but we played good enough to kind of hang with them a little bit and claw our way back into it.”
For the Pioneers, Brody Kirkpatrick had two assists in the victory while one each came from Potter and Nathan Schwein.
Carter picked up two assists for Grosse Ile, in addition to netting a goal, while Patrick Karn, Aiden Cookson, Presley Huber and Eric Ellis were each credited with one.
Next up for the Pioneers is a battle with Gibraltar Carlson on Saturday at 12:10 p.m. at Yack Arena for the regional title. Carlson defeated Monroe SMCC 5-1 in the other semifinal on Thursday.
The winner of the Richard-Carlson matchup will face either Chelsea or Livonia Churchill on March 24 in a state quarterfinal game at Dearborn Ice Skating Center.
Overall, the Pioneers have captured the last three regional titles and were victorious in the ensuing state quarterfinal games to advance to the state semifinals.