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Finlandia men’s hockey looking to finish season on high note

HANCOCK — It is easy to look at the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team’s season thus far and assume that there has been little to no growth for a team that enters their final home weekend of the 2021-22 season looking for their second win.

However, head coach Joe Burcar feels that his Lions squad has actually done some good things lately, despite the lack of wins. Finlandia is fresh off a weekend against the Lawrence Vikings where the Lions fell 2-1 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday against a team in the midst of a playoff chase. The Vikings sit sixth, just behind the Milwaukee School of Engineering Raiders, whom the Lions host this weekend.

The Lions (1-18) and Raiders will face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Houghton County Arena.

Sophomore center P.J. Donnelly scored his first goal of the season 4:25 into the second period Saturday. The goal cut the Vikings’ lead in half at the time. While the Lions were unable to even things, they fought hard to the final buzzer. 

Sunday, assistant captain Dylan Paavola got the Lions on the board first with a goal 7:38 into the contest on the power play. The Lions held the lead for nearly 10 minutes before the Vikings evened things.

If there is a fatal flaw for the Lions, however, it is a lack of being to score goals in key moments.

“It’s another opponent that we matched up well (against),” Burcar said. “I can say that many times this year, but it’s just…there’s a lot of things, but at the end of the day, just the lack of being able to score this year has been an issue. There’s been times that we’ve scored three-plus goals in games, but not that we’re not getting chances. 

“I think the day that we stop getting chances, well, I’ll be more concerned, but we’re getting chances. It’s just we’re not able to finish off. The lack of scoring has created a lack of wins.”

Despite the lack of results, and the numerous injuries that create a changing lineup each night, at the end of the day, Burcar has been impressed with how much fight the Lions have in them night in and night out.

“I’ll continue to say this, I like this team,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that we’re just fighting through. For what we’re able to put on the ice right now, and for them to compete at this level, is credit to them. 

Burcar would love nothing more than to see his team pick up a few wins late in the season to finish on the best note possible.

“I mean, we’ve got six games left,” Burcar said. “A few wins just kind of gives you a different outlook on things. We played pretty darn good hockey last weekend. You want to build off of that. 

“As frustrating as it is right now, from a coach’s standpoint, and player’s standpoint, because we haven’t had the wins that we really looked at going into the season with great potential, it’s just we just have to keep a positive outlook on things.”

Raiders in town

This weekend, the Lions host the Raiders hoping to fulfill the role of spoiler for the Raiders. MSOE enters the weekend having swept Concordia last weekend. The Raiders, who are 7-9-2 on the season and 5-5-1 in NCHA play, have been hot in January, going 5-3 over their last eight games. 

The Raiders are led by fifth-year forward Garrett Gintoli, who has 11 goals and a team-high 20 points. Junior Matt Hanewell leads the team in goals with 12 and has 19 points, which ties him with junior Kyle Herbster, who has six goals and 13 assists.

Freshman Darius Bell and sophomore Nick Stofcheck have split the goaltending duties, but Bell has been carrying the load of late. He has seen action in 14 games and has a 2.90 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.

Senior weekend

For Marcus Gloss, Dylan Paavola, Sheldon Brett and Tyler Watungwa, this weekend marks their final season at home with the Lions. Gloss, Paavola and Watungwa have all had a huge impact on the Lions over the past four or five seasons, while Brett has had a strong final season in Blue and White after transferring into the program.

Gloss, a Houghton native, was the first local player to commit to Finlandia after Burcar returned the program. He has seen action in 15 games this season and continues to be a big part of keeping the Lions in games.

Paavola, a Hancock native, scored a goal and an assist last weekend against the Vikings, pushing his season totals to two goals and five points. While not known for his scoring, he has been an integral part of the blue line corps for four seasons.

Watungwa, who has served as captain the past two seasons, leads the Lions in assists (9) and points (11) in 19 games this season. His assist total is a new career high.

After spending most of the first half of his freshman season watching games from the stands, Watungwa worked his way into the lineup by December and never looked back. Burcar has been extremely impressed with his work ethic, in the weight room, on the ice, and in the classroom, where he has served as an example for the team.

In his first full season with the Lions, Brett has a team-high six goals. He has served as a key leader for the team throughout the season.

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