Baby steps for Finlandia hockey as they look to improve
HANCOCK — Finlandia Lions men’s hockey coach Joe Burcar has seen a lot in his hockey career.
He was part of good Houghton Gremlins hockey teams, he coached Finlandia to its first playoff appearance and its first playoff title. He has also spent significant time developing some top young talent in California before returning to the Copper Country and helping lead the Lions back to the playoffs last year.
However, that does little to prepare a coach for a year like Burcar is dealing with right now. Eight games into the 2019-20 season, the Lions are 0-7-1 thanks a 1-1 tie and a 5-2 loss on the road to Lawrence last weekend.
Despite the lack of wins, Burcar likes where his team is heading.
“I give a lot of credit to our captains right now,” he said. “They’re keeping the morale tight. I mean, you look at it, we’ve lost two games in overtime, one with seven seconds to go.”
Burcar feels that his team is close, and Friday’s tie goes a long way towards proving him right.
“Sometimes it really is a game of inches or seconds or whatever you want to call it, but for any athlete, you have to have some rewards,” Burcar said. “It’s important for that to happen.
“You can feed off of those wins or you can feed off the losses and one can be very detrimental, one can be very uplifting. We need some positives to start happening for our group.”
Burcar believes in the direction the Lions are moving.
“This is a good group and, first and foremost, you just want to see them get some satisfaction, some wins out of it, because of their work ethic and how tight of a group they are,” said Burcar. “They’re fighting for each other.”
In Friday’s tie, freshman Zach Erhardt picked up his first career goal 11:06 into the contest. The Lions held that lead into the third before the Vikings tied things at the 5:05 mark.
Saturday, sophomore Dylan Paavola evened the game at 19:19 of the second period, but the Lions got into penalty trouble in the third, and Lawrence struck twice on the advantage, sandwiched around an even strength goal, which put the game out of reach.
Captain Connor Hannon picked up a goal a 14:12 of the third to make it 4-2, but the Vikings struck again just 13 seconds later, sealing the win.
“We have talked about it all the time, the tighter the locker room, the more success you’re going to have,” Burcar said. “We haven’t seen a locker room like this in a few years, and it’s a good group. Unfortunately, there’s been a serious learning curve for us right now.
“We’re going to focus on what we need to do and trust the process.”
The Lions return to action this weekend with a home-and-home series with Northland College. The Lumberjacks are 2-4 on the season and are coming off a pair of losses last weekend to Wisconsin-Stout, 6-5, and Wisconsin-River Falls, 4-3, both games as part of the WIAC, which Northland joined this season.
Senior Kalib Ford leads the team in scoring with three goals and nine points. Senior defenseman Kyle Pouncy has also gotten off to a fast start, with two goals and eight points.
In goal, sophomore Taylor Unruh has seen action in three games, going 2-1-0 with a 3.01 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.
Women’s team off
After another tough series against St. Norbert, the women’s hockey team is enjoying a weekend off this weekend. For head coach Matt Marchel’s team, this break comes at a great time, as his team continues to be close to finding a way to break through.
Against the Green Knights, the Lions trailed 1-0 heading into the third period Friday before the visitors struck three times in a nine-minute span to skate away with a 4-0 win. The Lions fired 11 shots at Green Knights goaltender Anais Aurard in the final frame, but could not find a way to beat her.
Saturday, senior Kait Ryynanen scored just 35 seconds after the Green Knights took their first lead of the night. The visitors struck again at the 16:00 mark and did not look back, scoring four more times, including twice on the power play in a 6-1 win.
The Lions return to action next weekend, when they host Marian.
Friday’s faceoff for the Lions and the Lumberjacks is set for 7 p.m. CST in Ashland. Saturday’s game is set for 7 p.m. at the Houghton County Arena.