HANCOCK - The tide turned back in favor of the Red Team in Sunday's 31st annual Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament, both within the game and on an annual basis within the 21-plus Elite division.
Red scored two, gave up two, then scored three as they went on to defeat Bruno's/River Valley 5-4 at Houghton County Arena.
The teams have contested five of the last six 21-plus Elite title games, with Bruno's/River Valley taking the last edition with a come-from-behind 4-2 decision. Just like in 2013, the Reds couldn't hold on to a 2-0 lead, but this time they offered the decisive response.
Alan L’Esperance celebrates a power-play goal he scored for the Red Team during Sunday’s 21-plus Elite Division final at the 31st annual Copper Country Oldtimers hockey tournament at the Houghton County Arena. The Reds beat Bruno’s/River Valley 5-4. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"I thought it was a good game, an even game all around. Obviously they have some good players, a lot of guys I'm sure a lot of the Tech fans are familiar with. I guess it could have gone either way," said Aaron Pietila of the Red Team.
Pietila played for Michigan Tech from 2009-13 and is currently in the insurance business in the Twin Cities area. His graduation from the Tech made him (and cousin Chad, a Husky from 2011-13) eligible to participate and he made a major impact, scoring two goals and assisting on a third.
"It was a lot of fun, just a fun weekend all around. Since I graduated I haven't been back much, but it was a perfect weekend to come back and play some hockey and see some old faces around town," he said.
Pietila opened the scoring 4:45 in when he made a strong move down the right for an unassisted goal. Red popped in another in close succession when Mark Pietila tipped in a Lars Helminen shot at 6:30.
Under tournament rules, the teams played two 30-minute running-time halves.
The defending champs had some top-notch talent too, as Husky alum and pro Brent Peterson put Bruno's/River Valley on the board at the 9:50 mark, with Finlandia alum Cody Essel adding the equalizer about five minutes later.
At 19:15 of the first, Pietila tallied again, notching what turned out to be the game-winner. Just three and a half minutes later, he assisted Alan L'Esperance on the 4-2 goal. L'Esperance bagged a second, on the power play, 90 seconds after that.
Jeff Mikesch scored unassisted for Bruno's/River Valley just before the break, his shot from the left sneaking through.
At the turn, Red had a 21-9 shot advantage, but with the lead, they effectively kept the game under control.
"I thought early on, we just buried the chances we had. They had a nice push-back to make it close, and then toward the end there, we just really locked it down defensively," Aaron Pietila said.
With a big help from goaltender Tyler Junttila (20 saves) and the Red defense, there was no scoring in the first 29 minutes of the second period, with Bruno's/River Valley's best chance coming off a pipe on a 5-on-3 with 11 minutes to go.
Dave Shute finally put one in by sneaking in a low shot from the right circle before Junttila had a chance to get down into his butterfly, but the goal came with 17 seconds remaining, a second extra-attacker goal was not in the offing and Red got back the trophy it last won in the bizarre heat of the 2012 tourney.
Jason Moilanen made 29 stops in a losing effort.
Monte Carlo claimed the 30-plus Gold Division title, defeating Schmidt's Corner 3-1 in the title game, while CW of America was the 30-plus Silver champ in a 6-1 decision over Cokato Finns.
Corporate Raiders defeated Coon Electric 4-3 for the 40-plus Copper championship.
The two round-robin divisions were swept by ReMax Ginger Stroube (50-plus Legends) and Port Huron Iron Workers (60-plus Masters), respectively.