Houghton rallies to beat TCC for 1st win of season
HOUGHTON — Shots bounced off the post, and players from Houghton’s top line were stuffed on 1-on-1 breakaways.
Friday night’s matchup against Traverse City Central was shaping up to be the epitome of frustration for a Houghton squad that began its season on a three-game losing streak.
But a four-goal third period replaced the hard feelings with joy and gave the Houghton Gremlins (1-3) its first win of the season: a 5-3 comeback victory over TCC at Dee Stadium.
Junior Taavi Rajala scored on a snipe from the left circle off the faceoff, while senior Jacob Kruse netted two goals and junior Dawson McKay added another in the final period for the Gremlins.
“Really proud that they stayed to the grindstone and kept competing,” Houghton head coach Corey Markham said. “To fall behind in the third and to answer was huge for the psyche of the team. It’s a big win for us.”
Tied 1-1 entering the third, TCC sophomore Jack Olson scored the go-ahead goal on the power play 5 minutes, 29 seconds into the period.
Kruse tied it again when he slapped home the puck from the crease and tied the game just over a minute later.
TCC (1-3) again went ahead when senior Travis Blackhurst recovered his own rebound and beat Houghton junior goalie Will Stier, who stopped 17 of 20 shots.
But again, TCC could not hold its lead. This time, it was Rajala’s turn to answer.
“We just didn’t handle it well. When you get the lead, the idea is to put your foot on the gas and just go hard, where we were a little bit tentative,” TCC head coach Chris Givens said. “It was almost like we were afraid of giving up the goal. That’s a tough way to play because you’re going to have that kind of trouble when you’re not being aggressive.”
Rajala’s goal was originally credited to McKay, but it was McKay who won the faceoff from the left circle before sending the puck to Rajala. The shot was the definition of a snipe. TCC senior goalie Jacob Tolfree reacted late and didn’t see the puck. It took the crowd and some of the Houghton players a moment to register what happened.
“It was basically just keep working and to get pucks to the net,” Markham said. “We’ve had trouble scoring this season, and we hadn’t created a whole lot of offense… We got pucks to the net and got a couple bounces we needed.”
Just 57 seconds after Rajala’s tying goal, McKay scored off a rebound from Rajala to give the Gremlins a 4-3 lead with 2:53 remaining in the third. To celebrate, McKay delivered a fist pump Tiger Woods would have been proud of.
“It was thrilling,” McKay said of his goal. “I had a few chances throughout the whole game, and I couldn’t put them in. Getting that opportunity was huge for me and the team to take the lead.”
McKay’s go-ahead goal may have been as much of a relief as it was exhilarating. Him, along with Kruse, orchestrated plenty of offensive opportunities early in the game with nothing to show for them.
Three-and-a-half minutes into the first, McKay brought the puck to the front of the net before Tolfree sent it away; Kruse attempted a one-timer off the bounce, but the puck clanked off the post.
Houghton failed to convert on a 5-on-3 power play in the first and later on, both McKay and Kruse were not able to beat Tolfree in a 1-on-1 situation.
“They’re on our top line and our top players,” Markham said of McKay and Kruse. “They were frustrated. Coaches were frustrated… They weren’t capitalizing on their opportunities, but they did a great job of scoring when it counted.”
Kruse’s second score was an empty-net goal that secured the victory with 44 seconds left in the game.
Houghton dominated possession in the first period, and the Gremlins finally broke through when junior Derrian Raffaelli flipped the puck over Tolfree for the first goal of the night 12:12 into the first.
In addition to Olson’s goal, TCC’s other power-play goal came from junior Kyle Knowles, who fired a shot that beat Stier to his stick-side late in the first to tie the game at 1.
“We had spent some time on the power play when we practiced here, because we hadn’t had a lot of penalties before this game,” Givens said. “We haven’t had a lot of time to work on it in a game situation, so to see them convert on that was nice. I think (the first goal) gave my guys a little more confidence that we were back in the game, kind of just starting over.”
Up next, Houghton hosts Escanaba at 1 p.m. today, while TCC heads to Hancock to play at the same time.”
TCC 1 0 2 – 3
Houghton 1 0 4 – 5
H — Darren Raffaelli (Ty Halonen, Austin Goudge), 12:12
TCC — Kyle Knowles (Scott Klavon, Jack Olson), 14:19
TCC — Jack Olson (Travis Blackhurst, Kyle Knowles), 5:29
H — Jacob Kruse (Taavi Rajala, Dawson McKay), 6:33
TCC — Travis Blackhurst (Joe Michno), 12:07
H — Taava Rajala (Dawson McKay), 13:10
H — Dawson McKay (Taava Rajala, Jacob Kruse), 14:07
H — Jacob Kruse (Unassisted), 16:46
TCC: 4/8; HOUGHTON: 4/8