Copper Kings top Gremlins for regional championship

The Calumet Copper Kings celebrate Braydon Cima's overtime goal against Houghton during the MHSAA Division 3 Region 17 championship on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The Calumet hockey team needed every minute of regulation play and then some to stay one step ahead of the Houghton Gremlins for the MHSSA Division 3 Region 17 championship game on Saturday at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

Five minutes into overtime, the Copper Kings’ Gabe Mattila saw daylight and took a shot

The puck deflected off the stick of Braydon Cima in the slot and past Houghton goalie Bryant Lee for a 3-2 win. Pandemonium ensued.

It was the second time the Copper Kings beat the Gremlins 3-2 in overtime. The first was in the MacInnes Classic championship. It was also the fourth win in as many games for the Copper Kings against the Gremlins this season.

With the win, the Copper Kings will take on the winner of Gaylord vs. Alpena in the state quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. Gaylord and Alpena play on Wednesday.

Calumet goaltender Aksel Loukus (31) makes a save against Landon Stevens (13) in overtime during the MHSAA Division 3 Region 17 championship on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

“I cannot say enough about the effort these kids put in,” said Calumet’s head coach Dan Giachino.” Our leaders stepped up. Aksel (Loukus), Pauly (Sturos), Ayden (Williams) and Jackson (Rilei) are the kids we’ve relied on all year. They’ve been big for us all season and tonight was no exception. I am super proud of these guys, and I couldn’t ask for a better effort from them.”

Interestingly, this was the fourth time these two teams had played this season. Calumet won every game outscoring the Gremlins 13-8. The Gremlins struggled each time to find a chink in the Copper Kings’ armor. Saturday’s loss was Houghton’s second overtime defeat against them this season, and it hurt.

” Our guys played very well. They did everything we asked,” said Gremlins’ head coach Corey Markham. “When you lose like this in overtime in a regional championship, it stings really bad.”

The game opened with a scoreless first period. Each team came out strong, moving the puck well and taking it to the net. It was end-to-end action. There was not a lot of give and take at mid ice nor scrappy play on loose pucks in front of the net.

“One of the things I liked was the effort our guys made in getting in front of shots,” Giachino said. “This is playoff hockey, and our guys weren’t afraid to put their bodies on the line.”

Calumet's Paul Sturos (10) scores the tying goal in the third period against Houghton during the MHSAA Division 3 Region 17 championship on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

It would take 14 minutes into the second for the Copper Kings to break the ice. As Houghton’s Camden Markham was in the penalty box for hooking, Calumet heeded of the man-up advantage. At the 2:54 mark, Rilei fired off a bullet of a shot that missed the net but hit the boards hard and bounced back into the crease. Sturos then wasted no time in putting it into the back of the net leaving Houghton’s net minder, Lee, spread out in front of the goal line full of frustration.

However, down 1-0 Houghton was far from hanging their heads.

“I told them between the second and third that I have confidence in them,” Markham said. “We have depth as a team, and we are going to score, and we did.”

It took the Gremlins just 30 seconds into the final period for them to even the score. A deflection off a Calumet stick came to Markham, and he lifted it in past Loukus.

While tying the game was good, it got even better for the Gremlins less than three minutes later. This time it was Paul Deforge who found a puck just outside the crease and caught Loukus going one way, and he went the other to make it a 2-1 Gremlin tilt.

Houghton goaltender Bryant Lee (33) makes a save against Calumet's Nolan Sturos (17) during the MHSAA Division 3 Region 17 championship on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Houghton, Mich. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

With the game on the line, Giachino checked in with his bench.

“They were not rattled by any mean,” he explained. “And again, a lot of that comes from our senior leadership. We then played five on five for a while and then got a break.”

That break came at the 4:07 mark. The Gremlins muffed a pass during a transition around mid-ice and Sturos was able to wrangle it in and drive in solo on Lee. He went left as Lee went right and lifted it past him.

“They got a break as we made a mistake, and they capitalize on it,” said Markham.

While shots were firing on both ends of the ice to close out regulation, none of them found the back of the net.

“For us it was good to get to overtime because our guys were really deflated after having the lead and losing it,” Markham said. “In OT we came out strong and had some great chances, and they had a fluke goal go through to win it.”

The Copper Kings are no strangers to post-season play. A year ago, they were Division 3 state-runners up. They lost to Cranbrook 4-1 in the state finals.

“This was a huge game for us,” Giachino said. “We’ve been fortunate to win this regional title three times now in a row. To keep going this year, we need to get healthy and keep doing what we are doing.”

CHS 0 1 1 1 — 3

HHS 0 0 2 0 — 2

First Period–Penalties–CHS, Erkkila (interference), :13. CHS, Jurmu (tripping), 16:38.

Second Period–Scoring–1, CHS, Williams (Rilei, N. Sturos), 14:06. Penalties–HHS, Miller (high-sticking), 3:10. HHS, Carlson (tripping), 6:00. CHS, N. Sturos (hooking), 9:28. HHS, Markham (hooking), 13:47. CHS, D. Loukus (tripping), 15:02. HHS, Kogan (hooking), 16:14.

Third Period–Scoring–2, HHS, Markham (unassisted), :24. 3, HHS, Deforge (unassisted), 2:44. 4, CHS, P. Sturos (Rilei), 12:18.

Overtime–Scoring–5, CHS, Cima (Mattila, D. Loukus), 5:02.

Power-play Opportunities–CHS 0 of 4. HHS 0 of 4.

Penalties-minutes–CHS 4-8. HHS 4-8.


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