Lions look for strong showing at home as they continue to improve

HANCOCK – It is easy to look at the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team and their 1-19-1 overall record (0-13-1 NCHA) and say that not much has changed in a year and a half with head coach Joe Burcar back at the helm. It is even easier to see it that way after the Lions dropped a 4-2 decision last Friday on the road at Trine and a 7-1 decision to No. 1 Adrian on Saturday.

The truth is that the Lions are improving, but still have a long way to go.

Despite their overall record, the Lions are a better team than they were in December, but their improvement has not yet equated to wins, over even ties.

“Are we getting better as the year progresses? Absolutely,” said Burcar. “I like the direction we are going. It is such a process to get to the wins right now. There are just so many little things that have to add up altogether to get us to win column.”

The most obvious form of that change comes in freshman Connor Hannon. The Houghton native has now dressed for nine games this season. In those games, Hannon has racked up two goals and eight points.

Those eight points are enough to make Hannon the leading scorer on the Lions.

What does Hannon do that the other Lions have unsuccessful at thus far?

“He leads the team in scoring, he leads the team in shots, after nine games,” said Burcar. “He just plays the game the right way.”

Hannon leads the Lions in shots on goal with 39. Current junior Cam Wirick led the team with 39 last season.

Sophomore Blake Peavy, a transfer from Bethel College, is second on the team with 36, in 21 games.

One of the ways Burcar has been trying to change the culture of the Finlandia program has been to get his team to take more shots. The Lions take an average of 21.9 shots per game, which is up slightly from 19.9 last season. Their opponents are taking 41.3.

“It’s one of the little things we have talked about since Day One with these guys is shoot the puck, get to the net for a rebound,” said Burcar. “You can see guys now, all these messages from (the coaching staff) weren’t sinking in, but now, I think the eye-opener is that (Hannon) has played nine games and he’s leading the team in scoring. Maybe we should be listening to the coach.”

This weekend, the Lions return to the friendly confines of the Houghton County Arena. Tonight, they will host the Northland Lumberjacks. Tomorrow, they will face the St. Scholastica Saints.

The Lumberjacks are 8-11-2 overall and 5-8-1 in NCHA play, good for 11 points and puts them two points out of a playoff spot.

Junior Lucas DeBenedet leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and 25 points in 21 games.

The Saints enter the weekend with a record of 13-7-1 overall and are 7-6-1 in NCHA play, which puts them in seventh, just four points ahead of the Lumberjacks.

Sophomore Kyle Star leads the team in scoring with five goals and 20 points.

GAME TIMES

Tonight’s game will take place at 7:15 p.m. at the Houghton County Arena. Tomorrow’s tilt with the Saints will be at 7 p.m.

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