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The road to the SDC continues...
February 3, 2009 - Brandon Veale
The prep hockey stretch run begins in earnest tonight and continues this week as Houghton and Hancock both try their luck in what are sure to be tight games with Calumet.
The Gremlins and Copper Kings play tonight at Dee Stadium. Calumet won the first match-up, 4-2 at the Calumet Colosseum Dec. 9. The teams met in the MacInnes Holiday Classic semifinals, with the Gremlins winning 3-1 in what was probably one of Calumet’s worst performances of the year thus far.
Houghton’s Dan Datto was the only player to score in both games.
With a win, the Gremlins would claw back to .500 at 9-9-1 with a difficult finishing stretch of games coming up. After tonight, only one of Houghton’s last five games is at Dee Stadium (and that one’s against Marquette). They also have tough road games at Kingsford and Houghton and a pair of trips to the MacInnes Student Ice Arena, one the Wing Ding game against Hancock Feb. 13 and a Feb. 23 game at Jeffers. Calumet’s in the same predicament, with five of its last seven on the road (and one of those is against Marquette).
Thursday, Hancock and Calumet meet (at Houghton County Arena) for the first time since the Nov. 28-29 Copper Island Classic.
The Bulldogs won both of those games at the Colosseum, 6-4 and 6-5. Hancock has scored exactly 100 goals this season (for comparison’s sake, Houghton, which has played more games, has 66), but we will see if their offense returns after a 10-day layoff. The Bulldogs’ last outing was Jan. 26 (a week ago Monday) against L’Anse.
Because of Winter Carnival and last night’s L’Anse-Jeffers snow-out, that’s all the prep hockey for this week.
Let’s shift gears to girls’ basketball, where we are looking at a rare treat Thursday: the clash of Houghton, unanimous No. 1 in the U.P. Class ABC poll, and Ontonagon, No. 3 in Class D (and No. 2 in my vote). Should be an opportunity to see exactly how wide a gap exists between the WestPAC and the Copper Country Conference.
Houghton is averaging exactly 60 points per game. That’s best among area teams, and as you might expect given their record, the Glads are second in the area at 52.69. (L’Anse is third at 50.62). Don’t expect a blowout. In fact, Houghton’s points per game in two games against Jeffers and Chassell of the CCC (49.5) is significantly less than in WestPAC games (63).
Elsewhere Thursday, L’Anse and Calumet meet, with both teams in search of an 11th win. Calumet won the first game (at L’Anse) by a 43-40 score and needed a game-ending 10-2 run to do it. The WestPAC is downright scary this year. Remember, Houghton’s last WestPAC loss was Oct. 31, 2002. It’s not like the Gremlins have been on a cakewalk through a poor field. When you consider that four teams already have 10 wins (with most having at least six games to play). Once again, this year’s district (in Houghton), is just brutally difficult.
Baraga at Jeffers is probably the best of Thursday’s Class D girls games. The Vikings won a 35-33 decision at home in their first meeting just two weeks ago and have won three straight league games. Also playing are Ewen-Trout Creek at Dollar Bay and Lake Linden-Hubbell at Chassell.
The other WestPAC scramble to the top gets only more challenging to decipher. At the halfway point of the boys’ campaign, four teams are within a game of the league leaders, Houghton. After the Gremlins’ non-conference game with Ishpeming tonight they will prepare for a key home game Friday with West Iron. The Wykons won the first matchup 55-41 in Iron River in December, and are a half-game behind in second. The other members of this WestPAC tangle have non-conference games this week: Calumet has Lake Linden-Hubbell at home Tuesday and a road trip to Jeffers Friday. Ironwood is off tonight and hosts Ewen-Trout Creek Friday.
The small-school spotlight is focused on Ewen tonight, where the E-TC Panthers face a potential banana peel in Ontonagon, the most dangerous 3-7 team in the U.P. We all saw what the Glads almost did to Baraga. I saw Ontonagon take down Lake Linden-Hubbell in Lake Linden and they looked much better than the record they have now. A major factor in this disappointing mark: The Glads have lost four games decided by five points or less. However, E-TC is a juggernaut. Through nine wins, the Panthers have won by an AVERAGE of 40 points and haven’t been held below 62 this season. Ontonagon had a respectable 63-43 home defeat in December against E-TC. These days, I wonder if anyone in the WestPAC could stay within 20 of these guys.
Other games tonight include Jeffers at Dollar Bay, the previously mentioned LL-H at Calumet, chapter two of the Keweenaw Bay clash (this time, it’s L’Anse at Baraga), and Nimrod Nation (that’s Watersmeet, by the way) visits Chassell.
Friday, L’Anse travels to Hancock with someone guaranteed to get their first WestPAC win. The Copper Kings visit Jeffers, Chassell’s at Ontonagon, E-TC travels to Ironwood and Baraga hosts Dollar Bay.
Just a final note on cancellations: I was incorrect when I said that the Jeffers-DB girls game is rescheduled to the 10th. (The Dollar Bay gym is booked for a boys’ game that night against Chassell.) Some media outlets reported that Houghton-L’Anse and Baraga-Chassell are tonight, but there are boys’ games in both locations tonight, so that’s probably not correct.
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