Early returns mixed for top-ranked Gremlins
As of Nov. 28, the Houghton Gremlins hockey team is the top-ranked squad in Division 3, according to the Michigan High School Hockey Hub poll. They are also the No. 2 team in the Super 10, which ranks the teams regardless of division.
The Gremlins are 6-0 on the season thanks to wins this past weekend against Saginaw Heritage and Kingsford of 6-3 and 6-2, respectively.
Houghton had not surrendered a goal until their fourth game of the season, a rivalry matchup against Hancock at the Dee Stadium last Wednesday.
So, why don’t the Gremlins feel like the best team in the state?
After cruising to an 8-0 win over Escanaba to start the season, coach Corey Markham and his staff had a lengthy discussion with the players over the effort they were producing in their season-opening contest. Three games later, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Bulldogs on Wednesday. The Gremlins then struggled through much of the second period, allowing the Bulldogs to storm back and cut the lead to one, 3-2.
“Really happy with the first and what we did there,” Corey Markham said after the Bulldogs game. “The second period, we got the early goal to go up three, and then we just started doing some just not smart things with the puck, careless, and soft on pucks. You just can’t do that. We turned over some pucks in bad areas, and then they converted on them.”
Corey Markham and staff again addressed the team between periods, and the results were a four-goal third period to win 7-2.
After one period Friday against Heritage, the Gremlins trailed 2-0, their first deficit of the season. They stormed back in the final two periods to win, 6-3.
“We were super disappointed in our first period,” said Corey Markham after the Heritage game. “We could feel it right from our first shift. We didn’t show up ready to play. We didn’t have the energy that we normally have, just everything that we anticipate, that we normally play with the fire, the energy, the compete, just wasn’t there in the first.
“They’re coming off a big victory against Hancock, and I don’t know what all the reasons were, but we didn’t show up ready to play.”
Saturday, they went into the third period against Kingsford tied at 1-1. They outscored the Flivvers 5-1 in the game’s final 17 minutes to earn a 6-2 win.
On the one hand, the games are all wins, and they all look the same on the scoresheet, the Gremlins won, their opponent lost. However, the way in which the top-ranked Gremlins are going about things has to be concerning for Corey Markham and his staff.
The Gremlins are very reliant on their top line of co-captains Camden Markham and Gaborik Carlson and alternate captain Landon Stevens. All three are seniors and make up arguably the best line in the state right now.
Camden Markham and Carlson have played varsity hockey at Houghton for three years prior to this year. Stevens had two years at the varsity level coming into this season. Camden Markham is coming off a 31 goal, 60 point campaign last season. Stevens had 20 goals and 37 points. Carlson had 11 goals and 36 points.
It is hard to argue that Houghton’s top line isn’t getting it done. Camden Markham has 12 goals and 23 points already in just six games. Stevens has 12 goals and 18 points. Carlson has four goals and 15 points.
In high school hockey, teams can get away with having one high-scoring line for most of the season, but they will need more than that come playoff time.
Where the Gremlins really seem to be struggling is in their own half of the rink. Defensively, they are making mental mistakes, the kinds that drive a coach crazy.
“We think it’s going to be easy,” said Corey Markham after the Hancock game. “You have a three-goal lead, and (they) think we can cheat, one hand on a stick, and not make strong plays entering zones or getting out of zones, and then it snowballs. Then they score one, and get some life, and they score another one, and get more life.”
Corey Markham talked about getting his team to focus better defensively after the Hancock game.
“We have to correct our defensive mistakes where we have to be better as a team defensively, and then our defenseman have got to control pucks better, make better decisions, and quicker plays,” he said. “That’s going to be the emphasis in practice.”
It is easy to forget that high school hockey is played by young athletes, specifically teenagers, who can tend to lose focus from time to time due to extenuating circumstances.
While the Hancock game was not an ideal victory for Houghton, Corey Markham was ultimately happy to have his team go through some adversity, hopefully to help them understand that games will not be handed to them on a silver platter.
“You know what, I was happy to have a game like this, for sure,” he said. “They are going to be there at the end. Hancock’s a good team. They’re very structured. They do a lot of really good things. We’re gonna have to play very well to beat them.
“When it’s all said and done, they’re going to be a team that we’re going to have to beat to get out of here. It’s gonna be a tough test…We can learn from this.”
The Gremlins have plenty of time to do just that. That work began Tuesday with a game against Jeffers.