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Scramble a great way to start hockey season

Last Thursday, Corey Markham, Scott Mikesch, Pat Nettell and Doug Garrow brought their high school hockey teams to the Dee Stadium to play in the revived scramble, a scrimmage tournament that gives players a taste of high school hockey while also giving coaches a chance to see players attempt to build some early confidence and chemistry.

As a player for the Houghton Gremlins from 1995-97, I had the opportunity to play in the scramble twice. The first time was as part of a team that was looking to build off a state semifinalist run the year before. We were a pretty loaded squad with both of the Gullstrand brothers, Ben and Gabe, Andre Durocher, Max Seel, and Ron Wiitanen between the pipes.

However, at the end of the year, we lost to a Calumet Copper Kings squad that bettered us in the regional final, and went on to win the state championship.

Prior to the start of the next season, several of us had jumped to other hockey opportunities. I was in Green Bay, playing midget AAA for the Northeast Wisconsin Roadrunners. After a strong start to the season, I was stuck with the Roadrunners, struggling to find the ice in any meaningful way. I contacted Don Miller, who was still coaching the Gremlins, and asked if he would consider adding me to the roster if I came home.

I was not the only one. We had five guys return from various opportunities to play elsewhere.

I missed the week of tryouts, so Mitt, as he was known throughout the community, made the scramble my tryout.

So I enjoyed both opportunities I had to play in the mini-tournament.

I don’t remember what year Houghton stopped hosting the scramble, but I remember feeling confused and disappointed that high school hockey players in the Copper Country were not going to have the same experiences I had without it.

Of course, at the end of the day, missing out on a scrimmage tournament was not really a big deal, but to me, it was a chance to get my feet wet for the year, and face everybody in the area.

When Corey reached out to me and asked me to help promote the scramble in the paper, I was, naturally, beyond thrilled.

Thursday did not disappoint. I missed the first 10 minutes of gameplay, and the Gremlins had already struck three times against Nettell and the Jeffers Jets.

That opening game was the worst effort the Jets put up on the day. After getting beaten 4-0 by Houghton, they bounced back with a 2-0 loss to Hancock in which goaltender Mathias Anderson looked confident and found ways to keep the Bulldogs’ shooters at bay.

The Jets look like a team that is ready to skate with the big boys, but they are going to struggle, at least early in the season, to score. Nettell is hoping some of his crop of sophomore forwards can catch the magic they found at the end of last season, and lead the way this season.

Hancock also looks better this season. Mikesch has a pair of tall goaltenders in Saku Cunard and Dan Wroblewski, both of whom will only get better with game experience. They also have a very mobile defensive core, led by co-captain Dominick Pizzi.

Up front, co-captain Calvin Heinonen looks ready to lead a group that will need to work hard to score goals. Two forwards that stood out to me were assistant captain Brady Galetto, who scored a goal in the slot that is worth mentioning, and junior Bryce Hanner. Hanner is what coaches refer to as a sandpaper player, who is not afraid to mix it up with opponents, but also has skill to make smart plays.

Houghton appears to be loaded for bear this season. They have a tremendous amount of experience up front in a large group of seniors. Co-captains Camden Markham and Gaborik Carlson are joined by assistant captains Landon Stevens and Sully Rajala as a quartet of senior leaders.

Having Rajala healthy for a full season will do wonders to take pressure off of Markham and Carlson. Carlson possesses excellent speed, while Markham showed his hands time and again throughout the scramble.

Quietly, however, it was a sophomore defenseman that caught my attention. Oscar Petersen gained a ton of experience learning from a group of senior defenseman last year. He soaked up everything like a sponge, and already this season, he appears ready to be a leader as just a sophomore.

Marquette, who was the fourth team in place of Calumet, who could not make the schedule work this season, had a strong showing for a young squad. Garrow and his staff have a lot of teaching ahead of them, but they will be strong when it matters, in February.

I, for one, am excited to see what this season holds for all four of our local high school hockey teams this year. On paper, Houghton looks poised to be the team to beat, but you cannot count out Calumet and senior goaltender Aksel Loukus. Hancock and Jeffers are both better this year, and both appear poised to close the talent gap between themselves and the Gremlins and Copper Kings.

The season starts for real on Friday. Jeffers is the lone squad at home, where they will face Cheboygan at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena at 7 p.m. Hancock heads on the road to face Alpena. Houghton will open their season at Escanaba.

Calumet won’t open their season until Friday, Nov. 25, when they face the Bulldogs, who will have a week off before facing the Copper Kings to open the Copper Island Classic at the Calumet Colosseum.

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