Hannon part of the solution at Finlandia

By DAVER KARNOSKY

dkarnosky@mininggazette.com

HANCOCK — Through 11 games as a member of the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team, freshman winger Connor Hannon has taken over the lead in points (nine) and shots (49).

Hannon, a Houghton native and former linemate of current Michigan Tech Huskies forward Raymond Brice is embarrassed by his early accomplishments. He gives all the credit for his early success to his new teammates, who have embraced his addition to the team.

“The guys on the team already were great,” Hannon said. “They welcomed us right in. It’s like we’ve been there all season.”

Since current Lions men’s hockey coach Joe Burcar was let go by the university following the 2008-09 season, there has been little reason for students and fans to make the trek in the dead of winter to the Houghton County Arena to see the Lions at home. Between tenures for Burcar, the Lions went through three coaches in seven years and won just 31 games over that span.

The first year and a half of Burcar’s second run with the Lions was not any better — at least in the win column. Through Dec. 9, the Lions had zero wins in 37 games.

Hannon, along with former Gremlins teammate Cale Markham, joined the Lions for their Jan. 5 matchup at Aurora. Hannon scored a goal and had an assist in a 3-2 loss.

Four games later, Hannon, who was joined in the lineup by Markham, Hancock native Hunter Kero, and Houghton native Marcus Gloss, picked up an assist as the Lions earned their first win of the season in a 2-1 victory over Wisconsin-Superior.

Hannon has continued to put up points since that night, and he has done it using a very simple mantra: shoot early, shoot often.

“Any shot is a good shot if you can get a puck on net,” Hannon said. “Any way we can get some offense going is a huge help. I think I had a couple go in that probably shouldn’t have, but I think the other guys are starting see that, ‘Hey, if I put it on net …’ Shoot the puck and good things can happen.”

That is exactly why Burcar sought out local talent such as Gloss, Markham, and Hancock natives Devyn LaCourt and Cam Murray before working through the fall to bring in Hannon and Kero at mid-season.

“Not only are they local kids, they are talented kids,” Burcar said. “They are easy to coach. They adapt to situations.”

While LaCourt and Murray have not yet seen time on the varsity squad, the Lions are playing better with the additions of Hannon, Kero and Markham to the lineup. Hannon believes that part of the reason for the improvement is that the team is now buying into what Burcar and his staff are looking for night in and night out.

“Coming in and being able to produce a little bit has been huge,” Hannon said. “I think the energy in the locker room is a lot better. More guys have bought in now. You can see that.”

Changing the culture of the Lions is a long process, and Finlandia is now icing a lineup that includes as many as 15 players who were not on the roster the season before Burcar first took over the program again. That much change means there are a lot of young players in the lineup every night. Burcar feels that much change leads to a lack of leadership as the Lions have just two seniors on the roster to go along with the newer faces.

That lack of senior experience is part of why the Lions are in games now but are struggling to maintain their effort level throughout the contest.

“Rather than play with a little zest and play on our toes, we played on our heels and reached and put ourselves into tough situations,” said Burcar after Saturday’s loss to St. Scholastica. “We fought through it, which was great, but it really gassed out some of our key guys.”

With coachable young talent like Hannon in the lineup, there is an excitement level brewing at the Houghton County Arena that has not been there in years. Last weekend, the Finlandia baseball team provided a level of excitement that rubbed off on the skaters on the ice.

Hannon alone is not enough to turn the fortunes of the Lions, but with help from some of his friends and former teammates, things are definitely looking up for Finlandia heading into next season.

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