Phillip Rios records shutout in Hancock’s 9-0 win over L’Anse

Hancock’s Phillip Rios makes a save against L’Anse’s Foster Miller during the Region 17 semifinals Thursday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — It’s hard to think about the future when in the midst of playoff hockey, but the future approaches regardless of circumstances.

And on Thursday, Hancock’s future was on the ice as the Bulldogs dismantled L’Anse 9-0 in a regional matchup at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. 

Dawson Kero has been a figure in the net for Hancock for the last four seasons, but against L’Anse it was a less familiar face behind the mask: junior Phillip Rios. 

When you’re backing up a first team all-conference goaltender with a state title under his belt, you don’t get much ice time. But that will change for Rios next season when the junior takes over the starting role. 

“He had three or four tough saves, and he is going to be the man next year, so this was a good little test for him,” coach Dan Rouleau said.

Against L’Anse, Rios only had to make 11 saves, but he executed all of them perfectly. The game started with two big ones that could have easily slipped past him had Rios not been alert in the net.In the locker room after each game, Hancock gives out a plastic hard hat, decorated with gold and red lettering and a bulldog cutout to signify the player who worked the hardest in the contest. And after Thursday’s win, Rios was the obvious recipient. 

“It is pretty sweet, just to see the hard work pay off, all of those practice hours. And all of the boys congratulated me for getting it,” Rios said after the game with the hard hat perched proudly on top of his curly brown hair.

Rios is generally unseen by Bulldog fans, as he does most of his work in practice. Hancock relies on him to challenge their scorers, and he says he approaches each practice with the same mindset: Be aggressive and stop every puck.

“He has improved so much from the beginning of the season until now,” Rouleau said. “I mean, he is facing the No. 1 team in the state every day in practice. He is getting quality shots, and he has really improved. That will make the transition from Dawson a little bit easier, because Dawson has been so good over his four years. 

“He wants to be the man, he wants to be the starter. Any backup goalie wants to get the time. He works so hard, and he challenges the guys in practice as much as possible. You can really see that improvement with him, and if we had a most improved player on the season it would probably be him.”

While Kero and the rest of the Bulldogs spend their practices prepping for approaching contests, Rios generally knows that practice is his big stage, and during games, he will be positioned firmly on the bench.

“It is the hardest position in hockey,” Rouleau said of the backup goaltender. “You work every day in practice just as hard as the other guys, and you don’t get anywhere close to the ice time that they get. He is good about it.”

But Rios doesn’t mind. In fact, for the time being, he is comfortable and content in his role. When he’s on the bench, Rios fixes his eyes on Kero, studying his movements, and how he attacks each puck.

“I like to learn from watching him play,” Rios said. “He is the best goaltender I have ever seen.”

Bulldog hockey fans don’t see much of Rios for the time being, and they don’t hear much from him either — that part isn’t likely to change when he takes over the starting spot. 

“He is a very nice kid, but very quiet. I think I have him up to about 26, 27 words on the year. He is so shy, but he always has a smile on his face,” Rouleau said.

That quiet nature is also a strength for Rios. Much like Kero, Rios maintains a calm demeanor in the goal. If he lets in a bad goal, it doesn’t affect him. If he makes a monster save, it doesn’t affect him. And even now, outside the locker room after a regional win, Rios is unaffected. He’s wearing a smile and a hard hat, but he’s quiet about the victory. 

After all, there is no sense getting too excited about it. Because next year, when Rios is “the guy” he will likely have plenty more wins to talk about.  

Next up

With the win No. 1 Hancock advances to play No. 2 Calumet on Saturday at 2 p.m. for the regional title game. 

Against L’Anse, the Bulldogs got two goals apiece from Teddy Randell and Trevor Tchida. Alex Nordstrom recorded a hat trick, and Carter Nettell and Bryce Randell each had a goal of their own.

That well-roundedness is what makes Hancock a tough matchup, L’Anse coach Nathan Turpeinen said. 

“They are so skilled all the way around,” he said. “They have good goaltending, good forwards, and Nordstrom and Randell are hard to contain. I wish them the best of luck going forward.”

– – – 

L’Anse 0 0 — 0

Hancock 7 2 — 0

First period

Hancock — Teddy Randell (Phillip Rios), 0:56, 1-0.

Hancock — Teddy Randell (Colton Salani, Trevor Tchida), 7:02, 2-0.

Hancock –Carter Nettell (Jakob Vettori), 7:22, 3-0.

Hancock –Tchida (Alex Nordstrom), 7:54, 4-0.

Hancock –Tchida (Nordstrom), 12:39, 5-0.

Hancock –Nordstrom (Teddy Randell, Tchida), 15:14, 6-0.

Hancock — Norstrom (Teddy Randell, Colton Salani), 15:57, 7-0.

Second period

Hancock — Bryce Randell (Teddy Randell), 1:51, 8-0.

Hancock — Nordstrom (Tchida, Teddy Randell), 4:41, 9-0.

Saves

L’Anse: Criag Mantila 25; Hancock: Rios 11.

Penalties

L’Anse 3/6. Hancock: 0/0.

Power plays

L’Anse: 0/0; Hancock: 2/3.

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