HANCOCK - Officially, the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association postseason tournament starts in two weeks.
But as the Finlandia hockey team sees it, the Lions playoffs began Friday against rival Lawrence.
Coming into Friday's game at the Houghton County Arena, FU trailed Lawrence and Northland by two points in North Divisional conference play. Of those three teams, one will not qualify for the playoffs.
Finlandia teammates pile around Lion captain Cam Goude (obscured) after the senior scores the game-winner in overtime Friday against Lawrence at Houghton County Arena. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Cody Essel carries the puck into the Finlandia zone late in the third period. Essel would score the tying goal with less than a minute to play. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
The Lions took a big step to securing their second consecutive tournament appearance though, with a gutsy 4-3 overtime win, Finlandia's second one-goal victory in a row.
"With four games left, this is playoff hockey right now for us," Finlandia head coach John McCabe said. "We showed up, we had the intensity and we got better as the game went on. ... we were physical and we won the battles we needed to and we were rewarded in the end."
That reward - and ensuing celebration - did not come easily.
Lawrence 1 1 1 0 - 3
Finlandia 1 0 1 1 - 4
First period - 1, FU, Derek Rodgers 3 (Kevin Smith), 0:34; 2, LAW, Brandon Boelter 6 (Cory Bastian) 3:53. Penalties - LAW, Matt Moore (slashing) 3:57; FU, Rodgers (slashing) 3:57; LAW, Bench (too many players) 10:15 ; LAW, Logan Lemirande (roughing) 13:02.
Second period - 3, LAW, Brad Scurfield 12 (PP) (William Thoren, Brandon Boelter), 9:46. Penalties - FU, Jordan Passino (hooking) 5:15; FU, Andrew Huckleyby (elbowing), 8:17; FU, Mike Montrose (high sticking) 8:37; LAW, Austin Rohaly (interference) 10:59; LAW, Paul Zuke (holding) 15:31; FU, Justin Scott (hitting after whistle), 15:31; LAW, Brandon Boelter (hitting after whistle), 19:58.
Third period - 4, FU, Travis Armstrong 1 (Cameron Goude), 7:12; 5, LAW, Lemirande 7 (Brad Scurfield), 15:09; 6, FU, Cody Essel 5 (Kevin Smith, Collin Saint-Onge), 19:17. Penalties - LAW, Rudi Pino (interference), 3:35; LAW, Matt Moore (tripping), 16:27.
Overtime - 7, FU, Cameron Goude 3 (Ryan Daavettila, Alex Heinonen), 2:32.
Goalie saves - LAW, Fabian Sivnert 15 (2-5-5-3); FU, Troy Chandler 37 (10-16-11-0).
Lawrence took a 3-2 lead with less than five minutes to play in the third period when Logan Lemirande turned a half-chance into a goal with a sniped wrister that beat FU netminder Troy Chandler glove-side.
Finlandia got the necessary response, however, with an extra attacker and just 43 seconds left to play.
With a faceoff in the left circle, McCabe called a timeout to set up a play the Lions have been practicing for several weeks. Collin Saint-Onge won the faceoff and was able to cycle the puck around to Kevin Smith, who centered for a crashing Cody Essel. The junior winger got enough of his stick on it to send FU into OT.
"We have been practicing that play for a bit now, and the guys did a great job of executing it," McCabe said. "That was a fantastic effort to get the puck on net and tie it up. ... real good senior leadership to keep us going after (Lemirande's goal)."
Finlandia came out flying in the extra period - "a shot of adrenaline," McCabe called it - and was able to capitalize 2:32 in when senior and captain Cam Goude punched home a beautiful cross-crease pass from Ryan Daavettila. Hancock-native and Daavettila-cousin Alex Heinonen freed Daavettila to find Goude with a nifty pass.
"Goude is a great leader, there is not a better kid on campus," McCabe said. "He represents this program like you want everybody to. ... this was his senior night and he wasn't going to do down a loser on senior night. He completely took the team on his back and carried us tonight.
"Heinonen to Daavettila, cousin to cousin, they have that sixth sense with each other," McCabe added.
Lawrence outshot Finlandia 40-19, including a 40-15 mark in regulation.
A superb game in net from Chandler (37 saves) kept the Lions within striking distance the whole time, however.
The junior netminder was most special in the second period when he stopped 16 shots, with many of them coming on Lawrence's three power plays.
"He was really seeing the puck well for us tonight," McCabe said. "You can't fault him on the goals because we just lost our man and they got some free whacks at it."
Derek Rodgers and Travis Armstrong scored for the Lions as well.
"It is just starting to jell," McCabe said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us with three games to go, but we will feel good about this one tonight."