Defensive struggle: Gremlins squeeze past Bulldogs, 2-0, Tuesday
HOUGHTON — In a game that saw the Hancock Bulldogs come in 0-2 facing off with the Houghton Gremlins, who won their first game via shutout, it would make sense that one coach would come out of Tuesday night’s matchup at the Dee Stadium feeling very good about his team and the other would be very frustrated.
Interestingly, it was not Gremlins coach Corey Markham who was pleased with his team’s 2-0 win.
Instead, Markham felt that his team took a long, hard look at the scores coming out of the Copper Island Classic this past weekend and just assumed they could cruise to an easy victory.
The game was anything but easy.
“Not a real strong game by us,” said Markham. “(We had) very few offensive plays and a lot of sloppiness and slapping pucks around.”
The Gremlins wired 35 of 36 shots at Bulldogs senior Phillip Rios. In easily his best game of the young season, Rios stopped 34.
“He gave us a chance to win tonight,” said Bulldogs coach Dan Rouleau. “I thought he played fantastic tonight.”
After his goaltender struggled through a tough weekend in Calumet, Rouleau had nothing but glowing words for the efforts for his first-year starter.
“This was obviously the best game of his young starting career,” said Rouleau. “I thought he played really well tonight. He was attacking the puck a little bit better and controlling his rebounds.
“If we keep that performance out of him, it’s going to make us a better hockey team.”
Rios was tested early and often. The Gremlins wired pucks from everywhere in the offensive zone. Many of those shots were around four feet off the ice, not far from the crossbar on a net. However, instead of racking up goals like the Copper Kings did during the weekend, the Gremlins’ shots found a waiting glove from Rios.
“We had a ton of shots, especially in the first period,” said Markham. “I don’t remember any time where we actually made the goalie move. We weren’t taking his eyes away. We didn’t play real smart.”
Markham and his staff spent time between both the first and second periods explaining to the Gremlins that long shots from the outside without any traffic in front was not going to cut it. It took 35:05 for the message to finally sink in.
Senior winger Brad Gauthier, who had already tried to make a move to the outside of the rink earlier in the shift, was able to complete the move the second time. Just as quickly as he had, he dropped the puck back for assistant captain P.J. Donnelly. The senior forward cut to the middle of the slot and he unloaded a quick wrist shot that hit the crossbar behind Rios and dropped over the goalline for his first goal of the season.
Donnelly factored into the insurance tally for the Gremlins with just 1:08 left. Rouleau pulled Rios with 1:20 left in regulation, and after a turnover near the Bulldogs’ blue line, Donnelly fed the puck to his right. Senior Brendan Erickson took the pass and quickly deposited it into the net at 15:52.
Markham was particularly frustrated with the fact that his team did not play with much urgency throughout the night. His fears were nearly realized 7:27 into the second period when Bulldogs freshman winger Todd Anderson stole a puck in the slot and skated in alone on Houghton netminder Jimmy Pietila. Pietila looked slightly sluggish in tracking the puck coming off of Anderson’s stick, but he was able to get his glove down and snatch the shot before it got past him.
“I thought Jimmy was very strong tonight,” said Markham. “He gave up very few rebounds. He was quick.”
The Gremlins will return to action Friday when they host Traverse City Central at Dee Stadium. The Bulldogs also play Friday as they host Hartland at the Houghton County Arena.
Hancock 0 0 0 – 0
Houghton 0 0 2 – 2
1, HHS, P.J. Donnelly (Brad Gauthier), 1:05
2, HHS, Brendan Erickson (Donnelly, Ty Halonen), 15:52
HAN, Rios 17 13 4 – 34
HHS, Pietila 4 5 11 – 20
HAN: 0/3; HHS: 0/3
HAN: 6/15; HHS: 6/12