HOUGHTON - With the Houghton hockey team's scintillating 7-0 start to the season, it would be nitpicking to point out that the Gremlins power play has looked occasionally lackluster despite Houghton's over five-goals-per-game average.
But with an undefeated start, that is what coach Corey Markham has to do to keep his kids sharp. Find an area the Gremlins have not dominated on the ice, and drill them until they improve.
In an early Christmas present to their coach, the Houghton boys proved they are still plenty motivated this season with a resounding 7-1 win over Calumet Thursday, including four power play goals in five chances.
Houghton enjoyed a 2-1 lead midway through the second period before pouring in four goals in just over five minutes to blowout their northernmost rivals.
"The rivals are Hancock and Calumet and Calumet has probably been even a little bigger the last few years," Markham said. "(Calumet) has been the top dog for a long time and they are always so tough, so guys get charged up to play them. It was pretty physical tonight and that was good to see."
Houghton took control of the contest for good when the Copper Kings gifted the skilled Orange and Black skaters a five-on-three twelve minutes into the second period.
Calumet 0 1 0 - 1
Houghton 2 4 1 - 7
First period - 1, HOU, Casey Markham (Cole Jespen), 3:03; 2, HOU, Connor Hannon (Tristan Foltz), SH, 12:18.
Second period - 3, CAL, Reilly Schrieber (Evan Billeck, Lucas Lahnala), 3:51; 4, HOU, Jonathan Bostwick (Hannon), PP, 9:54; 5, HOU, Foltz (Raymond Brice), PP, 12:32; 6, HOU, Bostwick (Hunter Rajala), PP, 13:55; 7, HOU, Austin Erva (Cole Hagwell), 14:13.
Third period - 8, HOU, Hannon (Markham), PP, 6:46.
Penalties - Cal, 5-10; Hou 4-8.
Goalie saves - Cal, Brian Rogers 23, Troy Pierce 7; Hou, Marcus Gloss 12.
Sharp passing and clever movement freed defenseman Tristan Foltz from the circle where the sophomore wired a snap shot top shelf to push the Houghton lead to 4-1.
The Gremlins kept the pressure on with a normal man-advantage and sophomore forward Jonathan Bostwick was given all kinds of time in the slot to pick his spot after defenseman Hunter Rajala hit him with a pass from the blue line. Bostwick also went top shelf for his second power play score of the day.
Houghton capped the period's lamp lighting 18 seconds later when senior Austin Evra skated on to a pass from linemate Cole Hagwell who was parked behind the net.
"When we got the 5-on-3 that was huge," junior forward Connor Hannon, who finished with two goals and an assist said. "We moved it quick and it is always good when you are making tape to tape passes. It makes things easier and we got some good shots with it.
"It gets you a jump getting a goal like that," Markham added. "You don't get a whole lot of 5-on-3's, but we moved the puck nice and Tristan just wired a great shot. So that gave us life and from that point we got a couple bounces and put a few more on the board."
While that second period surge finished the Copper Kings off, it was a quick first period goal that got Calumet on their heels early.
Houghton forward Casey Markham put the hosts on the board when he won a battle in front of the net and pounced on the rebound from freshman Cole Jespen's blue line wrister.
Hannon then scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, ironically on a CLK power play.
It was the fifth straight game with a short-handed tally for Houghton, a product of their aggressive, turnover inducing penalty kill.
"We have a couple tremendous penalty killers with Ray (Brice) and Connor (Hannon)," Markham said. "And that was a huge goal. We were up 1-0 and to go up two shorthanded was an absolutely huge part of the game.
"They pride themselves on trying to score in that situation."
Hannon added one more power play goal for good measure in the third period as the Gremlins continued to keep their foot on the gas.
"It is always a battle between us an Calumet," Hannon said. "It always gets a little bit chippy but we did a pretty good job today of staying out of the box. You always want to beat Calumet."
With Houghton juggling goaltenders this season with a pair of sophomores in Marcus Gloss and Jayson Wiitala, Gloss equated himself well Thursday night to hold the Kings to just one. While he only was called on to make 12 saves, Gloss turned away several odd-man rushes in the third period to keep Houghton firmly in control.
"A real good game from Marcus," Markham said. "That was real big for us to see that. He never gave up that goal to spark them, he didn't give them any life."