HOUGHTON - With a 3-3 game late in the third period Monday, it looked like Jeffers was bound for a second straight overtime game, but Houghton's Connor Hannon finally solved red-hot goaltender Dax Durocher with two minutes left to earn a 4-3 Gremlin win at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Hannon, who now has 28 goals this season, also scored the game's first goal and his team only narrowly won despite a 40-18 shot advantage. Houghton clinches at worst a share of the Lake Superior Hockey Conference title.
"You want a game like this going into the playoffs," Houghton coach Corey Markham said. "Jeffers is always scrappy and tough, they played well. It's great to be playing up here (where regionals will also be held) right before playoffs, and win a game like that.
Houghton junior Connor Hannon beats Jeffers goaltender Dax Durocher for the game-winning Gremlin goal with two minutes left in the third period Monday night at MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Houghton won just 4-3, despite a 40-18 shot advantage. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
" The difference is our skilled guys came through in the end."
Durocher made 36 saves in the game, most of them simply through sound positioning, solid rebound control and persistence during net-front scrambles. He held Houghton off the board for a span of 32 minutes, 58 seconds until Hannon tallied the game-winner.
"Dax had an outstanding game," Jeffers coach David Bekkala said.
Houghton 3 0 1 - 4
Jeffers 2 1 0 - 3
First period 1, HOU, Connor Hannon (Jon Bostwick), 3:01; 2, HOU, Davis Farrey (Jed Kallio), 3:34; 3, JEF, Tyler Bailey (Kevin Semmens), 4:21; 4, HOU, Kallio (Raymond Brice, Cale Markham), 16:02; 5, JEF, Troy Dunstan (Bailey), 16:24.
Second period 6, JEF, Dunstan (unassisted), 15:27.
Third period 7, HOU, Hannon (Kallio), 15:00.
Penalties Houghton 3-6; Jeffers 3-6.
Goalie saves HOU, Marcus Gloss 15 (5-6-4); JEF, Dax Durocher 36 (6-17-13).
"Obviously we were playing a phenomenal team, and the shots were a little lopsided, but I thought we kept them to the outside and played a team game.
"We would have liked to have been able to take advantage of a couple opportunities, but to be honest, with a 3-3 tie with two minutes left, we couldn't ask for much more."
It certainly didn't always look like it would be that close for the Jets - who lost 5-3 to Houghton earlier this year - or that impressive for Durocher.
The Jet junior, who has a career winning record in two and a half years for the green and white, surrendered goals on two of Houghton's first four shots.
The first was a Hannon wrister while skating down the right wing just 3:01 into the game, and Davis Farrey made it 2-0 only 33 seconds later with a left-point shot that deflected off a defender and past Durocher.
"They got a couple bounces that found their way to the net off a couple players, but our boys responded," Bekkala said.
Tyler Bailey fired a shot past Houghton goaltender Marcus Gloss only 47 seconds after the Gremlins' second goal.
After a stretch of three goals in 1:20, neither team scored for another 11:41, when Jed Kallio followed attempts from Raymond Brice and Cale Markham to make it 3-1. But, just like earlier in the game, Jeffers quickly answered - this time only 22 seconds later - with a Troy Dunstan one-timer from the slot.
Houghton came out of the intermission determined to extend its lead, dominating play early in the second period. The Gremlins fired the first six shots and outshot the Jets 17-7 in the stanza, but Durocher, who Bekkala described as "quietly poised and confident," and his defense weathered the storm.
Despite Houghton's second-period dominance, only Jeffers scored, with Dunstan tallying his second of the game by taking advantage of a careless defensive play by the Gremlins 1:33 before second intermission.
"There weren't a lot of great plays (early in the game), but they were just finding the net, then a long stretch with good chances and pucks weren't going in the net, but that's hockey," Markham said.
Both teams had quality opportunities in the third period, but it was almost one of the most innocent shots of the game that nearly broke the deadlock. Jeffers senior defenseman Ross Michaels fired a shot from 5 feet beyond the blue line that Gloss struggled to handle. It inched toward the goal line, but only crossed after a Gremlin defenseman knocked the net off the moorings trying to make the save.
Brice had several chances by burning Jeffers defensemen down the wing with his blazing speed. He didn't score, but drew two penalties that helped Houghton sustain pressure late. Finally Kallio led Hannon on a pass through center ice, and Hannon skated into the slot and beat Durocher's left pad as the clock hit 2:00 left.
Hannon had to watch the final 1:31 of the game from the penalty box, though, after a cross-checking call. Jeffers called timeout at the time of Hannon's penalty and pulled Durocher with 35 seconds left, but never managed a quality scoring chance.
"With the amount of chances we had we should score a little bit more, but you're going to run into some hot goalies, and I thought he was tonight," Markham said. "But that was good for us, really good for us."
Houghton (19-5, 9-0) can clinch the LSHC title outright with a win at Hancock Thursday (or if Hancock fails to beat Kingsford in a game scheduled for tonight), while Jeffers (14-10, 3-6 LSHC) will enter regionals after hosting L'Anse Friday.