Hancock battles back to defeat Howell 2-1
HOUGHTON — In the opening game of the John J. MacInnes Holiday Classic, the team that had to travel the farthest, the Howell Highlanders, nearly stole the show.
Fortunately for the fans of the Hancock Bulldogs, the boys in tan battled back from a 1-0 deficit to win the game, 2-1, Wednesday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
All season, Hancock’s “Black” line of sophomore Alex Nordstrom, assistant captain Teddy Randell, and senior Lance Kangas, has been a dominant force in hockey games. They have been averaging about four goals a night, giving the Bulldogs enough offense to make up for a lack of scoring depth from their second and third lines.
Wednesday, that was not the case as all three were held off the scoresheet in every way that mattered to the outcome of the contest.
“We didn’t get much support, but ‘Black’ didn’t give us much support either tonight,” said Bulldogs’ coach Dan Rouleau. “I think they had one good rush and that was it. Obviously they are much better than they showed [Wednesday].”
Wednesday also marked the return of junior Dawson Kero between the pipes. He was not tested that heavily, making just 14 saves on the night, but it was the second to last one that mattered most in the dying seconds of the game, when Russell Daavettila fed the puck to a crashing Austin Kantola on the back door.
“He didn’t have to make the spectacular saves [Wednesday], but he was steady,” said Rouleau. “He made some good saves, but he didn’t get tested a whole ton.”
Hancock did have a strong night from senior Brody Budweg, who netted a goal and an assist in the contest. His goal, which came 1 minute, 52 seconds into the final frame, was set up by a well-placed pass from junior Tyler Brunet.
“[Brody] made a nice play to get loose behind their [defense],” said Rouleau. “Tyler Brunet made a beautiful pass to him, tape-to-tape. It was a beauty across the middle of the ice there.”
Considering the fact that this was the first action for the Bulldogs in nine days, dating back to Dec. 19 when they drubbed Jeffers, 9-1, Hancock looked rusty in the first period, struggling to get pucks through to Highlanders goaltender Nathan George, and never really settled in afterwards.
At the same time, the Highlanders often collapsed defensively in the slot, creating matchup problems at the same time.
“Give them credit,” said Rouleau. “They packed it in defensively. They crowded their net a lot and blocked a ton of shots.”
On the first Howell power play, the Bulldogs kept the Highlanders from setting up in the offensive zone until the very end, when a shot from Kantola got through from the right circle, but Kero, who last played on Nov. 26 against Calumet, made the stop despite a screen from Sheldon Sturos.
On the second, Kero was again called upon to make a solid save, this time off a slapshot from Steven Mullally after a pass across the blue line from Kantola.
Hancock’s best scoring chance of the opening frame came off the stick of senior Devyn LaCourt. Budweg had control of the puck in the offensive zone as he skated from the top of the left circle to the top of the right. He fired a shot that sailed wide of George, but hit the back boards and kicked back out front to where LaCourt could get to it first. LaCourt’s quick shot was blocked by a sprawling Highlanders’ defender just before the goal line.
The Bulldogs finally got a power play of their own late in the period when senior Bryan Lepisto was hit up high without the puck near him. On the ensuing power play, however, it was the Highlanders who had the best scoring chance as Sturos stole the puck from assistant captain Tanner Givens at the right point, skated it the length of the rink, and crashed into Kero as he became tangled up with a defending freshman Colton Salani, who had hustled back to attempt to prevent a scoring chance.
The Highlanders broke the scoreless tie just 3:15 into the second when Trent Kantola positioned himself just to Kero’s left and managed to get the blade of his stick on a shot from Josh Seiter, who was cutting through the middle of the slot when he fired a shot. Kantola’s tip beat Kero along the ice to his left.
Hancock earned their second power play of the night 59 seconds later. They had a great scoring opportunity early on, when Budweg carried the puck around the Highlanders’ net and fed it out to LaCourt at the left point. LaCourt’s shot was tipped by Lepisto, but George was there to make the stop. Just 19 seconds later, the trio combined for another chance, and this time LaCourt’s blast from the right circle was tipped into the net by Lepisto at 5:38.
Just under a minute later, Givens was whistled for a slash, but it was Budweg who had the best scoring chance as he got loose in the neutral zone, made a quick move around the last defender and skated in alone, one to be stymied by George. Rather than hang on to the puck, George attempted to make a play with it. He dropped it just to his right, but no Bulldogs were in the vicinity.
In the final five minutes of the period, the Bulldogs earned a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage, but were unable to get anything past George. The best chance came off the stick of Nordstrom, who caught a cross-ice pass from senior Lance Kangas and fired a quick shot that George caught.
The teams combined for six shots in the third, including the game-winning goal by Budweg.
Hancock faces Houghton in the championship tonight at 8 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Howell 0 1 0 – 1
Hancock 0 1 1 – 2
1, HOW, Trent Kantola (Josh Seiter), 3:15
2, HCH, Bryan Lepisto (Devyn LaCourt, Brody Budweg), PP, 5:38
3, HCH, Brody Budweg (Jakob Vettori, Tyler Brunet), 1:52
HOW, George 3 5 2 – 10
HCH, Kero 7 4 3 – 14
HOW: 0/4; HCH:1/4