Houghton beats Hancock for first time in over 2 years to capture Holiday Classic title

From left to right, Kevin Bostwick, Dawson McKay, Taavi Rajala, Brendan Erickson and Justin Norkol celebrate with the John MacInnes Holiday Classic trophy after defeating Hancock 2-0 in the championship game Thursday, at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Dawson McKay has waited a long time to beat Hancock  — two seasons and a game, in fact.

Over their last seven meetings, Hancock has won every game, and McKay was ready to stop the trend.

He woke up on Thursday morning with an anxious feeling in his stomach as his Houghton Gremlins prepared to take on the Hancock Bulldogs in the championship game of the John MacInnes Holiday Hockey Classic.

Houghton lost to Hancock earlier in the season, but this time McKay knew it would be different. And he made sure of it.

McKay scored both goals in Houghton’s 2-0 shutout of Hancock in the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and I just wanted to get out there and beat them,” he said. “We haven’t beat them in two years so it was great to finally get it. Everybody just knew we could beat them. The last time we played we made dumb mistakes which cost us, but this time we came out and knew what we had to do, and we did it.”

That last meeting came on Nov. 28, when Hancock beat Houghton 4-2. After the loss, Houghton’s coach Corey Markham said he saw two teams with almost equal talent levels on the ice. This time, Houghton had the edge.

“I still think we are really comparable teams,” he said. “I think it is a flip of a coin probably most nights, and tonight was an extremely close battle all the way through. They had some good chances that they will probably wish they had back, but we had some quality chances as well. I just really think that the teams are close, and it will be a great battle for the rest of the year.”

One of those chances came with 3:10 left in the first period. A Houghton turnover led to an Alex Nordstrom breakaway opportunity, but he shot high and the puck hit the top of the net. Then, with just 16 seconds left in the period, Hancock got a chance on another Houghton turnover. Colton Salani came up with the puck but his shot was deflected by Will Stier, who had 26 saves in the shutout.

Stier, who was named to the All-Tournament team, didn’t give up a goal in the Classic, as Houghton shut out both of its opponents. And against Hancock, Stier was instrumental in securing a victory.

“He has just been competing hard and playing well,” Markham said. “He was a big part of our success tonight.”

Another big part of Houghton’s success: McKay, the tournament MVP, who made it his personal mission to beat Hancock.

His first goal came with three minutes remaining in the second period. McKay skated across the front of the net and, with a quick backhand, snuck the puck past Dawson Kero for a power-play goal. His second goal came on a 5 on 3 situation after Hancock was whistled for both tripping and hooking. The puck got loose, ended up on McKay’s stick, and the forward tapped it in.

“He has been taking the puck to the net lately,” Markham said. “He is such a big kid with a long reach and he has been using that to his advantage. His first goal, he was off-balance and he was able to reach back and shoot a backhand. That was a phenomenal play. He is so big and strong that it is tough to play against him.”

The Gremlins didn’t need any more scoring as they shut out a Hancock team that averages 5.3 goals a game. The Bulldogs struggled with Houghton’s physicality, and the Gremlins limited their opportunities in open ice, negating the speed that Hancock thrives on.

“They don’t give you a lot of room through the neutral zone,” Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said. “They like to get in your face. Houghton plays that type of style and our guys get frustrated by it, and if it keeps up, Houghton is going to beat us all year. We have to adapt to what they are doing, and tonight we didn’t.”

According to Rouleau, when Hancock struggled with Houghton’s physical play, the Bulldogs responded negatively by collecting penalties. They had six penalties for 15 minutes of box time.

“One of the reasons this loss is frustrating is because there was a lack of discipline amongst the players,” Rouleau said. “We let things get to us that we shouldn’t have. They didn’t respond well to that physicality. They retaliated at times and just played undisciplined, and they aren’t going to win anything this year if they play like that.”

This is Houghton’s fourth Holiday Hockey Classic championship in the last five years. The victory also adds to the Gremlins five-game winning streak.

Next up, Houghton hosts Brighton on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. and Hancock welcomes Novi on the same day.

– – –

Hancock 0       0       0       —       0

Houghton      0       1       1       —       2

First period

None.

Second period

Houghton — Dawson McKay (Ty Halonen), 13:28, 1-0.

Third period

Houghton — McKay, 7:04, 2-0.

Saves

Hancock: Dawson Kero 20; Houghton: Will Stier 26.

Penalties

Hancock: 6/15; Houghton: 3/6.

Power plays

Hancock: 0/3; Houghton 2/5.

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