Building a snowman: Gremlins score 8 to clinch spot in championship game

For the Gazette/Tim Arrick Houghton’s Jimmy Pietila readies to attempt to stop a scoring chance by Gabriel Richard’s Nathan Vazquez during a Division 3 state semifinal game Friday at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, MIchigan.

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The Houghton Gremlins did what they have done so well all season Friday morning as they used a relentless forecheck and goals from eight different players to cruise to an 8-0 victory over the Gabriel Richard Pioneers at the USA Hockey Arena.

With the win, the Gremlins clinched a spot in the state title game Saturday at 2 p.m. against Detroit Country Day in the search for their first state title since 1982.

“We got off to a good start, which was huge,” said Markham. “Like usual, our kids worked their butts off. Our work ethic was phenomenal.”

For the first two minutes, it appeared that the Pioneers were poised to make life difficult for the Gremlins as Zach Slowik got a scoring chance from the bottom of the left circle when he wired a wrist shot from a bad angle that Pietila had to hang on to.

A minute and a half later, the Gremlins finally got some pressure to the Pioneers’ Drew Adams, as senior winger Brad Gauthier fired a long shot from the left circle that Adams gloved.

Houghton kept the pressure on and soon found the back of the net off a faceoff. After senior center Brendan Erickson lost a faceoff, junior winger Jiseung Choi jumped in and made a quick play to poke the puck from a Pioneers defender. Erickson snatched up the puck and fed it over to senior winger Seth Francois. Francois fired a shot and then poked his own rebound past Adams at 2:58.

“That’s the type of goals we need,” Markham said. “In playoff games, those types of goals happen a lot more than the pretty passing. For us to be successful, that is how we have to score. Seth got the job done.”

Getting that quick goal was key for the Gremlins as they were able to then establish their forecheck the rest of the game.

“We felt that that was going to be the case if we got up on our toes,” said Markham. “We knew that they did not skate as well as we did and their defense did not have a lot of quickness. The whole plan was to get pucks deep and finish our checks and get to the puck first. We were able to do that.”

The Pioneers had a great chance to even the game with a lengthy two-man advantage, but could not find a way to beat Gremlins goaltender Jimmy Pietila. Pietila made 16 saves to earn the win.

Looking to add to their lead, Houghton was able to do that when junior winger Niko Rajala knocked a rebound past Adams. Junior winger Jett Heinonen took a cross-ice pass from captain Kevin Bostwick at the left point. Heinonen moved to his left and fired a wrist shot. Junior winger Tucker Tapani got a piece of the rebound, but could not get a shot off. The puck bounced to Rajala, who knocked it home at 9:48.

While that was all the scoring the Gremlins would do in the first period, things went from bad to worse for the Pioneers in the second as the Gremlins exploded for five more tallies.

Before Houghton got rolling, they had over a minute of power play to work with, but could not get anything through. Gabriel Richard had a chance to break through just after the penalty kill as leading scoring Nathan Vazquez had a chance in the slot that Pietila fought off.

From there, things went south for the Pioneers as they took a penalty and Bostwick fired a long shot from the left point that snuck through traffic and past Adams at 4:27.

Tapani extended the lead to four with a goal just 50 seconds later. Heinonen picked up his third consecutive assist on the tally.

“Our third line didn’t get a lot of publicity for the job they have done this year,” Markham said. “They chipped in again today. Tucker Tapani had a highlight reel goal Jett Heinonen has been playing extremely well. We have good depth and that is the reason we have been able to win this year.”

The Gremlins continued to keep the pressure on the Pioneers and the Gabriel Richard skaters started to get frustrated and take some penalties. During a 4-on-4 situation, Houghton struck again.

Right off a faceoff to Adams’ left, Choi took a pass from Bostwick and fed it across the slot to Gauthier. Gauthier waited for Adams to make a move before wiring a wrister up and over his shoulder at 10:35.

On another Gremlins power play in the latter stages of the middle frame, Erickson set himself up in the right circle. After fanning on one shot and missing the net on another, Erickson finally struck at 12:14 off a feed from Rajala to give Houghton a 6-0 lead.

Assistant captain P.J. Donnelly, who already had two assists on the day, picked up a goal near the end of the second when he set himself up in the left circle on yet another Gremlins power play. Erickson picked up a loose puck in the right circle and found Donnelly across the high slot. Donnelly wasted no time firing a wrist shot in the top left corner of the net to push the Pioneers to the brink.

Markham and the Gremlins discussed getting right after the shell-shocked Pioneers to open the third period.

“That was the only discussion that happened between periods,” said Markham. “(We were) trying to score as quickly as possible to give us as much rest as we can going into tomorrow. That really was stressed.”

The Houghton skaters did just that, keeping the puck in the offensive zone for well over a minute before Gabriel Richard could finally clear it. The Gremlins were able to rush back and retrieve the puck and move it back up quickly. Senior defenseman Justin Norkol carried the puck in deep on an odd-man rush and fired a shot that Adams could not swallow up. Choi crashed the net and knocked the rebound home at 1:37 to seal the win.

Scoring

Houghton 2 5 1 – 8

Gabriel Richard 0 0 0 – 0

First period

1, HHS, Seth Francois (Brendan Erickson, Jiseung Choi), 2:58

2, HHS, Niko Rajala (Jett Heinonen, Tucker Tapani), 9:48

Second period

3, HHS, Kevin Bostwick (Heinonen, P.J. Donnelly), PP, 4:27

4, HHS, Tucker Tapani (Heinonen), 5:17

5, HHS, Brad Gauthier (Choi, Bostwick), 10:35

6, HHS, Erickson (Rajala, Donnelly), PP, 12:14

7, HHS, Donnelly (Erickson), PP, 15:18

Third period

8, HHS, Choi (Justin Norkol), 1:37

Saves

HHS, Pietila 7 9 0 – 16

GR, Adams 9 11 0 – 20

Power plays

HHS: 3/5; GR: 0/4

Penalties

HHS: 5/10; GR: 5/10

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