Finlandia falls to St. Scholastica in OT

Lions winger Cale Markham controls the puck during a game against the Saints Saturday at the Houghton County Arena. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

HANCOCK — When coach Joe Burcar was rehired as head coach of the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team in late August 2016, the path to bring the Lions back to being competitive night in and night out was a long one. A year a half later, Burcar has the Lions finally playing like a confident bunch, despite falling to 1-20-1 overall and 0-14-1 in NCHA play after a 3-2 loss Saturday to the No. 18 St. Scholastica Saints at the Houghton County Arena.

Icing a roster with 15 players who were not on the roster prior to last season, the Lions are still young, and it showed over the final 20 minutes of regulation and the nearly five minutes of overtime. The Lions held a 2-1 lead going into the final frame but surrendered 18 shots over the game’s final 24:14 of play, showing that they still have a lot to learn.

“We continued to battle throughout the game,” Burcar said. “I believe they had three power-play opportunities, if I am correct. Rather than play with a little zest and play on our toes, we played on our heels and reached and put ourselves in tough situations.”

The Lions killed off an early power play, but the Saints kept the pressure on and Kristopher McKinzie found the back of the net at 5:22 to tie the game when his rebound beat freshman Marcus Gloss.

Finlandia remained back on its heels throughout the third and that led a lengthy 5-on-3 situation late in regulation. The Lions managed to kill off the penalties but nearly surrendered a goal shortly after when a tired freshman Cale Markham turned the puck over in his own end and the Saints got Gloss moving side-to-side and beat him with a wrist shot. The goal was called back, however.

In overtime, the Lions had a couple of good looks early before assistant captain Matt Benolkin was whistled for slashing with 57 seconds remaining.

The Lions held their ground for much of the final minute before a rebound by Nate Pionk bounced over Gloss’ outstretched right leg and into the net at 4:46, sealing the victory for the Saints.

“It’s tough,” Burcar said. “I give our guys a lot of credit. Learning how to win is so valuable. I know we are going to learn a lot from this.”

The Saints jumped out to an early lead just 4:57 into the contest, but the Lions responded just under four minutes later when sophomore Danny Hill found the back of the net. Hill lost a faceoff to Saints goaltender Forbes Ploszaj’s left, but he chased down the puck, turned, and wired a wrist shot over Ploszaj’s left shoulder at 8:53.

Benolkin gave the Lions the lead late in the first period with a bomb from the middle of the blue line on the power play at 17:01. With a faceoff to Ploszaj’s left after Pionk took a penalty for hooking, junior Kendall Bolen-Porter won the draw back to freshman Adam Wammes. Wammes moved the puck quickly across the blue line to Benolkin, whose shot rang off the right post and into the back of the net.

It was the kind of play the Lions have been working on in practice.

“Benolkin has a great shot,” Burcar said. “It looks great when it is executed like that and it goes in the back of the net. That is something we work on a lot.”

The Lions had a strong second period, firing nine shots at Ploszaj, but could not find an insurance marker before the period ended. The best chances they had came on the same man advantage when junior Paul Lochner skated the puck down the left boards, cut to the slot and fired a wrist shot. Ploszaj made the save, but he kicked the rebound right out in front of him, where Markham was able to get to it. Markham fired quickly but was also stopped.

– – –

St. Scholastica 1 0 1 1 — 3

Finlandia 2 0 0 0 — 2

1st Period

CSS: Mark Whiteley (Parker Mismash, Kyle Star), 4:57, 1-0

FU: Danny Hill, 8:53, 1-1

FU: Matt Benolkin (Adam Wammes, Kendall Bolen-Porter), PP, 17:01, 2-1

2nd Period

None

3rd Period

CSS: Kristofer McKinzie (Max Mettler, Seth Chumley), 5:22, 2-2

Overtime

CSS: Nate Pionk (Davis Ross, Whiteley), PP, 4:46, 3-2

Saves

Ploszaj, CSS: 6 9 5 2 — 22

Gloss, FU: 10 13 15 3 — 41

Penalties

SSC: 5/10; FU: 6/23

Power plays

SSC: 1/3; FU: 1/3

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