Houghton falls to Hartland 6-2

Houghton’s Derrian Raffaelli plays the puck as Hartland’s Brandan Tulpa pursues, Saturday at the Dee. (Eden Laase/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The beginning of the season is when a team finds out how tough it really is, and there is no better measuring stick than the Hartland Eagles. 

The Houghton Gremlins are tough, but not tough enough, and coach Corey Markham said they learned that in a 6-2 loss to Hartland, Saturday at Dee Stadium. 

“They let you know exactly where you are as a team, and we aren’t quite at their level, so that is why we have to get better in practice,” he said. 

The Eagles (5-0) are the No. 2-ranked Division II team in Michigan and they look the part. Hartland was visibly bigger and stronger, but Houghton came out with a sense of urgency in the first period. The Gremlins didn’t let size, or the presence of Michigan’s “Mr. Hockey” candidate, Josh Albring, intimidate them. 

Houghton took a 1-0 lead at 9:31 in the first when Hartland was called for tripping and the Gremlins went on the first power play of the game. Patrick Donnelly fired a shot on Hartland’s goalie, Andrew Heuwagen, and the puck danced around on the goal line before finally bouncing off Heuwagen’s foot and into the net. 

The Gremlins owned a 1-0 lead at the end of the first, but the Eagles wouldn’t be silenced that easily. They came out, flipped the script and scored four goals in the second period. 

“Going down 1-0, it was something we had to match,” Hartland coach Rick Gadwa said. “We had to match their intensity and the way they played. Once we were able to figure it out, then we tied it up in the second and had a really big second period. Being able to pocket four goals in the second helped us get the momentum we needed to carry through. 

“[After the first] we talked about adjustments that we had to make. Houghton is a team that is in your face in a positive way. They are a good forechecking team, and we had to find a way to break that forecheck and also get the puck into areas that relieved some of that pressure.”

Hartland executed flawlessly for the rest of the game, and by the time the second period was over, Houghton didn’t have much chance to come back. 

The Eagles got their first goal of the game from Gabe Anderson at 11:49. They immediately took control of the puck in the second period and began to apply pressure to the Houghton defense. Once Anderson scored on a long shot from just outside the penalty circle, the Eagles were able to gain momentum. From there they got goals from Albring, Jake Gallaher, Max McIllmurray and two from Joey Larson. 

Houghton scored again at 8:11 in the third on a goal from Taavi Rajala. 

“I thought we had a really good start to the game. We came out well, we were skating hard and we got the early lead, but we weren’t able to keep up the same intensity for three periods,” Markham said. “We have to get in better shape, but that is one of the top teams in the state right there, and very few teams are going to be at that same skill level. They make you pay when you make mistakes. We just have to learn from this.”

Houghton is off to a rough start (1-3), but playing teams like Hartland has a purpose, and Markham never hesitates to schedule top-tier competition. To him, a loss to a team like Hartland is worth more than just a check in the “L” column. 

“I would much rather play teams like this and get beat than play a softer team and win,” he said. You won’t get the same outcome, but I’ll take the tough schedule and a loss any day of the week. We have to find an intensity and compete level in order to be successful against a good team, and I think that we learned a bit from how strong they were.”

When it comes to tough competition, Markham and Gadwa are on the same page. That’s why the Eagles keep coming back to play teams in the Copper Country year after year — they also played Hancock on Friday, beating the Bulldogs 2-1. 

Each time his Eagles match up with the Gremlins, Gadwa said they are caught off guard because it is a completely different style of play, but it is the kind Hartland will run into during the playoffs. Games like this he said, teach the Eagles how to compete.

“They play a hard-nosed game up here. That is why we come up every year because we love the way they play; they play hard and they challenge us every year.  

“They play a heavier game up here,” he said. “You aren’t going to come see a lot of guys dangling, guys trying to tic-tac-toe; you are going to see a hard brand. If you want to be ready to play in the playoffs, you have to take on teams that play that way. They play a playoff brand every game.”

Next up Houghton will take on Kingsford, Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Dee Stadium. 

– – –

Hartland 0 4 2 – 6

Houghton 1 0 1 – 2

First period

Houghton – Patrick Donnelly (Dawson McKay), 9:31, 1-0.

Second period

Hartland – Gabe Anderson (Jake DeYoung), 11:49, 1-1.

Hartland – Josh Albring (Jake Behnke, John Drunskinis), 9:24, 2-1. 

Hartland – Joey Larson (Anderson, Brendan Tulpa), 4:56, 3-1.

Hartland – Jake Gallaher, 2:53, 4-1. 

Third period

Hartland – Larson (Tulpa, Grant Pietila), 14:04, 5-1.

Houghton – Taavi Rajala (Seth Francois, Dawson McKay), 8:11, 5-2.

Hartland – Max McIllmurray, 7:07, 6-2. 

Saves

Hartland: Andrew Heuwagen 5 3 7 – 15

Houghton: Jimmy Pietila 6 7 9 – 22

Penalties

Hartland: 8/27; Houghton: 6/12.

Power plays

Hartland: 0/6; Houghton: 1/7.

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