HOUGHTON - In a one-game playoff hockey scenario, it often takes just one magical moment to separate the victors and a team facing their end-of-the-season banquet early.
Hancock didn't find just one magical moment Tuesday night, the Bulldogs put on a full show.
Three goals in the first 6:11 of play, a hat-trick from third line center Tanner Kearly and a handful of scores pretty for any level of hockey left Jeffers on the wrong side of an 8-4 decision and put the Bulldogs into the Division 3 regional semifinals against L'Anse Thursday.
Hancock’s Dylan Hanke puts a shot on goal during Tuesday’s Division 3 regional first-round game against Jeffers at MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton. The Bulldogs advanced with an 8-4 victory. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Postgame, Jets coach David Bekkala could find little at fault with his team's effort - Jeffers trailed in shots on goal by a slim 24-23 margin - and tipped his hat to the Hancock playmakers.
"You look at the goals they got and let's be honest, we got beat by a team that was opportunistic and rightly so," Bekkala said. "I thought our boys played hard, they controlled much of the play and we were outshooting them for much of the game. But (Hancock) scored the goals they needed to score and most of them were pretty nice goals. It wasn't like there was this big breakdown or anything like that. you just wish it wouldn't have happened in a one-game playoff."
The Bulldogs opened the scoring just 61 seconds after the puck dropped when sophomore forward Hunter Kero flipped a pass from behind the net to a waiting Zach Ahola at the doorstep to beat Jets goaltender Dax Durocher.
Jeffers 0 1 3 - 4
Hancock 4 2 2 - 8
First period - 1, HAN, Zach Ahola (Hunter Kero, Brett Lepisto), 1:01; 2, HAN, Hayden Heikkinen (Lepisto, Kyle Hauswirth), 6:01; 3, HAN, Lepisto (Dylan Hanke, Jack Fenton), 6:11; 4, HAN, Tanner Kearly PP (Wade Hanke, Hauswirth), 14:16.
Second period - 5, HAN, Larry Fallon (Jacob Norkol, Kearly), 3:29; 6, JEF, Anthony Harris (Brady Guilbault, Matthew Mantta), 4:00; 7, HAN, Kearly, 14:01.
Third period - 8, JEF, Travis Wesa (Mantta, Guilbault), 4:24; 9, HAN, Kearly, 4:53; 10, JEF, Wesa (Tyler Bailey), 14:17; 11, JEF, Mantta (Harris), 15:23; 12, HAN, Isaiah Bekkala (W. Hanke, Ahola), 15:47.
Penalties - Jeffers, 4-8; Hancock, 2-4.
Goalie saves - Jeffers, Dax Durocher 16 (4-7-5); Hancock, Jacob Givens 19 (8-9-2).
Hancock defenseman Hayden Heikkinen increased the lead to two five minutes later when his slap shot from the point took a fortunate deflection that wrong-footed Durocher and leading scorer Brett Lepisto made it a full three-goal advantage just 10 seconds after Heikkinen's tally as the junior sniped the far post rushing into the zone.
"We had already beat (Jeffers) twice this season (4-1, 4-1) and we talked about how hard it is to beat a team three times so we needed that fast start," Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said. "That was a wonderful first period, the boys really came ready to play."
Kearly then made it a 4-0 cushion entering the first intermission with a classic tip-in tally on the first 10 seconds of the first period's only power play.
"He is a football player and a good, strong body and he did a great job using it tonight," Rouleau said. "He just shields guys away from the puck."
"I was just trying to got a stick on it and I got lucky I suppose," Kearly modestly added.
The junior lit the lamp again in the second and third period for his first career high school hat trick. Both goals came in similar fashion with Kearly over-powering defenders to create space for a shot, before burying it top-shelf past Durocher.
"Maybe I had (a hat trick) in Bantam?" Kearly said. "I don't know, it has been a while. it felt awesome."
True to his prolific-scoring ways, Jeffers got two goals from senior Travis Wesa and another from defenseman Anthony Harris and Matthew Mantta to keep Hancock on its toes until late in the third period.
Bekkala specifically wanted to thank his seniors Jed Kangas, Collin Hagan, Mantta, Troy Dunstan, Wesa and Ross Michaels for the winning season.
"We have six of them who refused to quit," Bekkala said. "I wanted better for them and they wanted better for themselves. It is a bit of a bitter pill right now because they are a real team. I know it is clich, but they are a close group of kids who enjoy being together. I think everybody feels bad that six of them aren't going to get an opportunity to play again."