HANCOCK - The Bulldogs were guaranteed to win Friday night, but unfortunately for Hancock hockey fans, it was the Brighton Bulldogs who emerged victorious, 5-3, at Houghton County Arena.
Hancock tied the game 3-3 with 2:45 remaining after trailing 3-1 midway through the first period, but a controversial fourth Brighton goal and game-sealing power-play goal lifted the No. 2-ranked visitors to the win in their 11th straight year playing in the Copper Country.
"You play the No. 2 team in Division 1 in the state that tough, and you have to be happy. They outchanced us and outscored us, but credit to our kids to keep battling and to (goaltender) Devin (Kero) for giving us a chance to win at the end again," Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said. "The teams we're playing on paper are all better than us, and we're playing them pretty tough, so it's a credit to every guy in that room."
Hancock’s Zach Hill attacks the Brighton net against defenseman Brett Pietila in the first period of Brighton’s 5-3 win on Friday at Houghton County Arena. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Brighton dominated the first period, outshooting Hancock 18-4, and it took the visitors just 48 seconds to break the scoreless tie with a Karsten Heppler power-play goal. But Hancock responded soon after, when Brett Hauswirth put the host Bulldogs on the board at 4:51, stealing the puck at the blue line and beating goaltender Christian Michalic on a breakaway.
Brighton forward Scott Schueneman finally converted the Bulldogs' possession domination into more goals midway through the period, beating Kero to the high glove side at 6:30 after forcing a turnover, and then one-timing a pass from Tommy Kivisto past Kero at 9:08.
As badly as Hancock was outshot in the opening period, the host Bulldogs bounced back for a strong second period. Hancock's Jeremy Rowe cut the deficit to 3-2 at 5:58, firing a shot from just inside the blue line that found its way through traffic and into the top right corner of the net - the only goal of a second period in which Hancock was just edged in shots, 10-9.
Brighton 3 0 2 - 5
Hancock 1 1 1 - 3
First period - 1, BRI, Karsten Heppler (Scott Schueneman), 0:48 (PP); 2, HAN, Brett Hauswirth 1 (unassisted), 4:51; 3, BRI, Schueneman (Tommy Kivisto), 6:30; 4, BRI, Schueneman (Kivisto, Tyler Carr), 9:08.
Second period - 5, HAN, Jeremy Rowe 1 (B. Hauswirth), 6:58.
Third period - 6, HAN, Hauswirth 2 (unassisted), 14:15 (PP); 7, BRI, Kivisto (unassisted), 14:37; 8, BRI, Zach Morgan (Zach Carr, Chet Daavettila), 15:51 (PP).
Power-play opportunities - Brighton 2-for-4; Hancock 1-for-2.
Penalties - Brighton 4/8; Hancock 2/4.
Goalie saves - Brighton, Christian Michalic 16 (3-8-5); Hancock, Devin Kero 39 (15-10-14).
"I think we just went to sleep in the second period," Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. "You have to give them credit. A one-goal game with (Kero) in net is scary."
And it got scarier yet for Brighton late in the third period.
The visitors controlled much of the third-period possession, like they had in the first 17 minutes, but Hancock deadlocked the score at 3-3 with 2:45 remaining when Hauswirth again found the back of the net on a shot from the slot.
But the jubilation among the Hancock faithful didn't last long, as Brighton went up 4-3 on the very next shift - 22 seconds later - with Kivisto beating Kero from the right circle.
"This happened last week against Houghton," Rouleau said. "We'd score goals and they'd come back on that next shift and get a goal. I told the guys going out how important it was to come back with a tough shift, but they were able to come back and get the game winner."
Kero dove back across the net to his left and appeared to glove the puck as it was crossing the line. The goal light went on and the referee signaled it a good goal, but Kero furiously argued the call.
After a long debate at the bench, the goal stood, and a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was issued to Kero, who made 39 saves in the losing effort. Brighton closed out its 5-3 win with a Zach Morgan power-play goal with 1:09 left.
"This is an amazing trip ... and it's the highlight of the year. We really have enjoyed it every year. For the players, it's a good chance to be together," Moggach said. "We enjoy the whole hockey environment up here and look forward to playing Calumet."
Brighton will visit Calumet tonight at 7:30, while Hancock will look to quickly regroup before hosting defending Division 1 state champion Novi at 1 p.m. today.