CALUMET - On a night of breakthroughs, the Houghton Gremlins clinched their first Great Lakes Hockey Conference championship Tuesday.
Houghton locked up the title with two league games to spare after rolling past Calumet 7-2 during the hockey portion of the 2014 Valentine's Massa-Cure Benefit For Cancer Care at Calumet Colosseum.
"We're real proud of that. You set team goals at the beginning of the year and it's always going to be one of your goals, to win a conference championship. To accomplish that with a couple games to go feels nice, and I'm proud of our team for that," Houghton coach Corey Markham said.
Houghton’s Riley McKay (9) celebrates with teammate Zach Verran after Verran’s second-period goal in Tuesday’s game against Calumet at the Calumet Colosseum. The Gremlins won 7-2 to clinch the Great Lakes Hockey Conference championship. The contest was part of the 2014 Valentine’s Massa-Cure Benefit for Cancer Care. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
It took a while for Houghton to get going, both in game time and in real time. The Gremlins had a heavy shot advantage, but no goals, when a check in front of their penalty box led to a lengthy delay for repairs to the glass.
The teams went to the locker rooms and the ice was resurfaced before play resumed with 5:03 remaining in the first period. That frame was completed without a goal for either side, and after a brief break, the second began. At 2:02, Casey Markham tossed a shot on net that Calumet goaltender Ian Carroll juggled over his goal line for the opener.
The first goal had an impact on the ones to follow.
Houghton 0 4 3 - 7
Calumet 0 1 1 - 2
First period - No scoring.
Second period - 1, HOU, Casey Markham (Jon Bostwick), 2:02; 2, HOU, Zack Verran (Cale Markham, Spencer Donnelly), 2:54; 3, HOU, Reid Pietila (Connor Hannon, Hal Gemigniani), 4:08; 4, HOU, Cale Markham (Casey Markham), 9:40; 5, CAL, Matt Prouty (Evan Billeck, Maxx Fredrickson), 12:32 (PP).
Third period - 6, CAL, Matt Prouty (Jacob Anderson), 3:04 (PP); 7, HOU, Ray Brice (Casey Markham), 4:43; 8, HOU, Reid Pietila (Brice), 9:48 (PP); 9, HOU, Verran (Cale Markham), 11:57.
Power-play opportunities: Houghton, 1-for-4; Calumet, 1-for-4
Penalties: Houghton 7/14; Calumet 8/16.
"I think we started getting more pucks to the net that points, then got a few (goals) to get more breathing room, then got away from there," coach Markham said.
Zack Verran, Reid Pietila and Cale Markham all added tallies in the next 7:38 as Houghton put the game out of reach quickly.
"We actually played well up to the delay, then after that, we really didn't play particularly good, but a lot of it's got to do with their team too," Calumet coach Jim Crawford said.
Calumet clawed one back late in the frame on a Matthew Prouty power-play goal. Prouty struck again on the man advantage 3:07 into the third period, but whatever suspicion existed of an exciting finish was quickly extinguished.
Ray Brice put Houghton up 5-2 less than two minutes later and Pietila and Verran both added their second goals of the game as insurance.
The two-goal night for Verran tripled the career scoring total of the workmanlike senior defenseman.
"Houghton, they just keep coming at you and they weren't off tonight, they were flying," Crawford said.
Jayson Wiitala stopped 15 shots for the win.
Carroll had 28 saves before being relieved after Houghton's fourth goal by Tyler Hubbard, who made 18 stops.
Houghton (19-3) has two more hurdles to clear for an unbeaten league record, starting with a Thursday home game against Marquette.
Calumet (5-16-1, 3-6 GLHC) has two more home games at the Colosseum this week, including a Thursday date with Negaunee.