HANCOCK - In the first game of the last day of the Rick Miller Memorial, Hancock and Traverse City West were looking for their first win. In Saturday's last game of the two-day weekend showcase, Houghton and Traverse City Central were hoping to avoid their first loss. In the end, both local teams got the best of their downstate visitors.
Hancock beat TC West 5-2 and Houghton beat TC Central 5-1 at Houghton County Arena in results all four coaches attributed to hard work.
"I'm real impressed with our effort," said Houghton coach Corey Markham. "We knew Traverse City Central was a very good team coming in and the kids were amped up to play them, and I just thought we had 51 minutes of great effort and we deserved to win this game."
Houghton junior forward Ray Brice celebrates his second goal against Traverse City Central goaltender Bill Vermetten Saturday afternoon during the Gremlins’ 5-1 win over the Trojans at Houghton County Arena. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Ray Brice tallied a hat trick to cap a five-goal weekend, Connor Hannon scored the eventual game-winning penalty shot and Jayson Wiitala stopped 23 of 24 shots for Houghton, in a game that looked to be a shootout early on.
Brice used his blistering speed to fly down the left wing and beat a TCC defender and goaltender Bill Vermetten just 55 seconds into the game, but Trojan forward Mitchell Ward capitalized on a Gremlin defensive breakdown to the tie game only 28 seconds later.
The game settled down in a hurry, though, in a first period that saw a combined 11 shots the rest of the way. In fact, both teams battled scoreless play for most of the second period, too, before Hannon buried a penalty shot (called after an apparent infraction during a goal-mouth scramble) top-shelf.
TC West 0 1 1 2
Hancock 2 1 2 - 5
First period 1, HAN, Larry Fallon (Hayden Heikkinen, Alex Hill), 4:09; 2, HAN, Wade Hanke (Hunter Kero, Brett Lepisto), 10:18.
Second period 3, TCW, Jacob Benker (Collin Peters), 0:41; 4, HAN, Dylan Hanke (Lepisto), 13:00 PP.
Third period 4, TCW, Peters (Nick Schultz, Jake Saxton), 0:16; 5, HAN, W. Hanke (Heikkinen, Zach Ahola), 7:50 PP; 6, HAN, Lepisto (unassisted), 16:24 SH EN.
Penalties TC West 5-10; Hancock 5-10.
Goalie saves TC West, Carter Edmondson 32 (12-11-9); Hancock, William Lucier 20 (5-10-5).
TC Central 1 0 0 1
Houghton 1 2 2 - 5
First period 1, HOU, Ray Brice (Casey Markham), 0:55; 2, TCC, Mitchell Ward (Cam Givens, Nico Saco), 1:23.
Second period 3, HOU, Connor Hannon (penalty shot), 13:53; 4, HOU, Brice (Hunter Rajala, Casey Markham), 14:15.
Third period 5, HOU, Casey Markham (Jon Bostwick, Brice), 9:25; 6, HOU, Brice (Hannon, Tristan Foltz), 13:42 SH.
Penalties TC Central 4-8; Houghton 4-8.
Goalie saves TC Central, Bill Vermetten 25 (5-11-9); Houghton, Jayson Wiitala 23 (6-7-10).
But, after Hannon broke a 29-minute, 30-second stretch without a goal, Brice scored just 22 seconds after that in almost identical fashion to his first-period tally.
"I thought the goal they got right after that (penalty shot) was probably the real backbreaker," TCC coach Chris Givens said. "To have two goals like that that close together, we were struggling as it was to get anything generated, but that was kind of the nail in the coffin."
Casey Markham scored 9:25 into the third period - he also had two assists earlier in the game - and Brice polished off the hat trick with another burst of speed, this time streaking down the right wing and beating Vermetten shorthanded.
"I've been scoring a lot lately and just kept putting them in today, and it felt really good," said Brice, who now has 10 goals in five games.
"I thought it was pretty simple: We got outworked for two out of the three periods. Houghton deserved to win for sure," said Givens, a Hancock alum. "Houghton is still Houghton, and I want to beat them as much as I always have but this trip is great, the kids love coming up here and it's good to get home and see family and friends."
At least Givens got to see his former school win, as the Bulldogs got off to a fast start.
Larry Fallon scored four minutes into the period on an innocent-looking shot from just inside the blue line and Wade Hanke scored six minutes later with a top-shelf shot from the inside edge of the right circle. Hancock outshot Traverse City West 14-5 in the opening 17 minutes.
But the Titans quickly responded with a Jacob Benker goal only 41 seconds into the second period.
"We were a little bit flat the first period. We showed up, weren't working hard and they jumped on us with a 2-0 lead right away," said TCW coach Jeremy Rintala, who has 10 underclassmen on his roster. "The second period was our best period. We see it in spurts and we're seeing it more often now, but we need more consistent hard-working effort and a complete game."
Dylan Hanke upped the lead to 3-1 at the 13-minute mark from the left faceoff dot on the power play, but TCW came out of the gates quick once again, with Collin Peters scoring just 16 seconds into the third period.
"You always want to come out hard, you always want to keep the momentum, and we let them do it to us two periods in a row," Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said. "That shouldn't happen twice."
But penalty trouble plagued the Titans' comeback effort any further. A Peters penalty - he had three in the game, including a game misconduct and disqualification midway through the third - opened the door for Wade Hanke to slam home a power play rebound goal.
"I never like to lose in this building, and it doesn't feel any better now as a coach either," said Rintala, a Houghton alum. "We'll get another chance next year. It's nice to come back up here and play against our old schools and honor our old coaches that have both passed away in the past couple years. It is kind of special for us."
Brett Lepisto capped off the win with 36 seconds left on a shorthanded goal from near his own blue line. He also had two assists in the game. Hancock outshot TC West 37-22, as William Lucier made 20 saves in the Bulldogs' win.
"The first four we've played we had a chance to win every single game, and it's nice to finally get that 'W' today," Rouleau said. "It was an all-around workmanlike effort. I hate to single anybody out. All three lines were on the scoresheet, the goaltender played well and the D played well."
The weekend serves as perfect preparation for Houghton (5-0) and Hancock (1-4), which open conference play against each other Tuesday at Dee Stadium.
"Houghton is probably going to be the biggest obstacle to winning that conference," Rouleau said. "It's nice to taste a win going into that game."
"I'm impressed with Hancock," Markham said. "I think they're going to be a real hard team to beat."