COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It wasn't necessarily easy or pretty, but Shaker Heights found a way to get it done. And there are no awards for style points in hockey.
A dozen years ago, the Red Raiders boys hockey program won its last state title when several of its current players were barely old enough to walk and talk. Their last appearance in the state final was eight years ago and head coach Mike Bartley's team made sure its next trip to Columbus would be worthwhile.
The Red Raiders won their fourth state title in school history with a 3-1 win over Sylvania Northview in front of 2,348 at Nationwide Arena, and it was a game that hung in the balance until the final horn.
Not only did Shaker Heights have to earn its way to the OHSAA state championship game by battling out a semifinal win over Rocky River on Friday afternoon, but they gutted out an impressive victory in the final over a very strong Sylvania Northview team that had stunned Columbus' entry (Olentangy Liberty) the day before.
Senior goaltender Eric Sterin kept the Red Raiders afloat as the Wildcats kept coming in the third period, trying to put a dent in a two-goal load that Shaker Heights obtained early in the final period -- on a goal that almost didn't count. Sterin stood tall as the Wildcats got a late 5-on-3 opportunity and essentially tossed the kitchen sink his way, but the netminder was rock solid for the Red Raiders.
His biggest moment might have been a clutch stop on Sylvania's Caleb Rau, who pounced on a turnover at the offensive blueline and had a breakaway with 2:50 remaining in regulation. Sterin stayed patient and square, kicking out Rau's wrister that would have pulled the Wildcats within a goal with plenty of time left.
Sterin finished with 25 saves on the evening.
Shaker Heights got the championship-deciding goal late in the first period from senior forward John Longman, who was excellent for the Red Raiders throughout the final weekend.
While this was not the end result that defending champion Northview was looking for, the Wildcats made their 15th appearance in the state semifinal tournament and played for their third championship in the last seven years. A team that replaced 10 players from last year's championship club, Northview played solid hockey and came together at the right time, coming up one win shy of repeating.