Loukus pair leads Copper Kings to Region 17 title
HOUGHTON — For nearly 38 minutes Saturday, the Houghton Gremlins hockey team found a way to keep the Calumet Copper Kings’ captain Dean Loukus from scoring.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Loukus did something special and the Copper Kings turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 victory in the MHSAA Division 3 Region 17 championship at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
The Copper Kings will travel to Lakeview Arena in Marquette Wednesday for a 6 p.m. game against Alpena. The Wildcats went 3-11-1 during the regular season, but defeated Sault Ste. Marie and Gaylord to get to the quarterfinals.
Gremlins senior defenseman Milo Schafer fell along the boards near the Copper Kings bench. Tracking the puck, which slid to the Gremlins’ line, Dean Loukus jumped into the open space and snatched the puck up while Nolan Sturos jumped out of the way. Loukus cut through the right circle, turned towards the Gremlins’ net, beat senior winger Brandon Norkol and then put the puck through the space between assistant captain Dane Johnson’s legs and his stick, regained control of the puck and then beat captain Jimmy Pietila over the left shoulder to score what stood as the game-winning tally.
For his coach, Dan Giachino, it was something he has gotten used to seeing his fourth-year center do.
“He’s one of the best players in the state,” Giachino said. “In these kinds of games, you have to have your best players be your best players. He stepped up to the table in the third period with a huge goal.
“He’s been doing that all year. Some teams have been able to keep them in check a little bit more. Hooughtn did a really good job with keeping him bottled up in our end for two periods, but you also know when you have a kid like that, it’s a matter of time before he makes his play.”
Dean Loukus wanted to make a statement early in the third period, but he almost didn’t as he thought he had lost control of the puck during that memorable moment.
“The puck got moved up to Nolan Sturos,” said Loukus. “He kind of made a nice play around that (defenseman) and left (the puck) there. I came into the zone. (I) tried to make a move around the (defenseman). I felt like I lost it a little bit, so as soon as I got it, I just put it on net.”
With the win, the Copper Kings improved their season record to 16-0-1, something that Giachino would not have thought possible prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, but something that he can enjoy now as his team looks forward to a quarterfinal matchup in Marquette Wednesday against Alpena.
The Gremlins had chances to answer late. They had a power play with 4:09 remaining. They pulled Pietila with 1:46 left. However, with a chance to tie the game on the stick of assistant captain Nathan Erva with 55.6 seconds left, he could not quite corral the rebound off a shot from sophomore winger Landon Stevens.
Just seconds later, Nolan Sturos banked the puck off the boards near the penalty box and the puck caromed into the empty net at the other end of the rink to seal the victory.
For Gremlins coach Corey Markham, the missed opportunity was just one of many as the Gremlins outshot the Copper Kings 31-16, went 0-for-3 on the man advantage, and missed a number of chances late to tie things up.
“We did not get a bounce the entire game,” Markham said. “We felt like we worked extremely hard. We had a lot of pressure. We did not get a deflection in front or a bounce. That’s just kind of how it felt.”
All game long, Calumet sophomore Aksel Loukus had to be at his best to keep the Gremlins offense at bay. The younger brother of the Copper Kings’ captain made several key stops, including the one on Stevens in the final minute of play.
“I thought we were the better team for two periods,” Markham said. “Ultimately, on our quality chances, he either made a save or we missed the net. We didn’t score. We had opportunities and felt we had plenty where we could get up by a goal or two, and that changes the story.”
The teams skated to a 0-0 tie in the first period that saw the Copper Kings jump on the Gremlins early, but a penalty to assistant captain Jackson Rilei slowed Calumet’s momentum. Houghton did not score on the advantage, but junior defenseman Kade Farrell and sophomore winger Sully Rajala both had scoring chances just about 10 seconds apart, separated by a faceoff.
Calumet finally sustained some offensive zone time in the last four minutes of the period, but it was the Gremlins who had the best scoring chance when Stevens split the Copper Kings defense, skated in and fired a wrist shot that Aksel Loukus fought off.
The game remained 0-0 over the midway point of the second period when Nolan Sturos took advantage of a puck in the corner to Pietila’s left. Looking to something out of nothing, Sturos threw the puck out front. His pass hit Pietila, who was stretching across, and the puck bounced into the net at 9:46.
“You have to get a sloppy goal here and there,” Giachino said. “It’s a huge goal. At that time, I thought we were getting out-played at a pretty considerable amount. To get a goal like that, it was, even though we gave it back, was still huge to get some momentum going and some positive energy.”
Calumet had less than two minutes to enjoy their lead, however, as junior defenseman Matthew Rowe jumped on a puck in the Copper Kings’ zone and fed it quickly to a circling Stevens. Stevens cut into the high slot and wired a wrist shot that hit the crossbar behind Aksel Loukus before bouncing down into the net at 11:31.
“We got solid goaltending,” said Giachino. “We killed a few penalties. When you’re killing those penalties, your goaltender has to come up and make some big saves. He’s certainly stepped up to it as well.”
Houghton kept the pressure on after the goal. They had two or three quality scoring chances sandwiched around a goal for the Copper Kings that was nullified by an offsides call.
Giachino challenged his players to be better, and with the two third-period tallies, they were.
CHS 0 1 2 — 3
HHS 0 1 0 — 1
Second Period–1, CHS, N. Sturos, (Rilei, Dean Loukus), 9:46. 2, HHS, Stevens, (Rowe), 11:31.
Third Period–3, CHS, Loukus, (Rilei, Erkkila), 3:44. 4, CHS, Sturos, (Erkkila), 16:16, en.
Goalies–CHS, Loukus, 8-16-7–31 saves. HHS, Pietila, 6-4-3–13.
Power-play Opportunities–CHS 0 of 0. HHS 0 of 3.
Penalties-minutes–CHS 3-6. HHS 0-0