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Gremlins, Bulldogs advance: Hancock holds off Jeffers to win semifinal matchup

Hancock winger Brady Axford attempts to keep the puck away from Jeffers winger Cage Osterman (16) during their Division 3 Region 17 semifinal game Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The Hancock Bulldogs hockey team jumped out to a lead just 10 seconds into their Division 3 Region 17 semifinal matchup with the Jeffers Jets. They struck a second time just 8:49 later, however, they needed an empty-net goal with 1:25 to guarantee a date with the Houghton Gremlins on Wednesday thanks to a 6-4 victory Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

The Bulldogs had 5-2 lead 4:42 into the third period when co-captain Bryce Hanner scored on a penalty shot, but that goal almost did not stand without a late empty-net tally, much to the chagrin of Bulldogs coach Pete Rouleau.

“Unreal,” he said. “I don’t even know what to say.

“What do you say? They didn’t quit, right? They got a couple of nice goals, got pucks to the net, and we were a little soft in front, tying guys up. They tipped a couple in, and it was right back to a one-goal game.”

Rouleau said that after the Jets made it 5-4 on a power play goal by Cage Osterman as he tipped a shot past Bulldogs goaltender Dan Wroblewski at 14:06 of the third period, his team struggled to handle the pressure the Jets put on.

“So, now we’re clinching our sticks tight,” Rouleau said. “I thought we did a good job of blocking some shots when we had to. They did have a really good Grade ‘A’ chance, I thought, that missed the net, but other than that, I thought we did a good job blocking some shots and getting pucks out when we had to. I was relieved when the empty-netter went in.”

Jets coach Aaron Helminen was proud of the way his team kept finding ways to battle back.

“Not the start (we wanted),” he said, “but (I) have to give our boys credit for battling back. I know that.

“(I am) extremely proud of this group. The boys, the leadership amongst the seniors, and the captains, and everything, great job to just stick with it.”

After Hanner’s goal to put Hancock up three, 5-2, the Jets answered at 11:03 on a shot from the slot by junior winger Brit Heinonen that bounced twice and found its way into the net.

The Jets were awarded another power play with 2:29 left and trailing by a goal, but without the services of junior defenseman Benton Rajala, who was hurt earlier in the contest. Aaron Helminen pulled goaltender Kasen Helminen with 1:46 left to put his team on a two-man advantage, but the puck came back to the left point, where Rajala would normally be. The Jets defender who was in that spot lost the puck in his feet, allowing Hanner to get the puck clear of the zone. Alternate captain Bennett Sturos chased it down and put it into the empty net at 15:35 to seal the win.

Hancock took an early 1-0 lead just 10 seconds into the contest when freshman winger Brady Axford softly put the puck into a spot where junior winger Jackson Sintkowski could quickly fire it. The play, which ended with Sintkowski’s shot hitting the crossbar and dropping behind Kasen Helminen, happened before several people, including Rouleau, realized what was happening.

“You couldn’t ask for a better start,” said Rouleau. “I think it was 10 seconds in. I was looking down, I heard a post and I looked up. I wasn’t sure if it was in until I heard the horn.

“You can’t ask for a better start than that. (It) was a good play. I think it was (Stukel), (who) made a good play on the wall to (Brady Axford), and then (Brady) threw a good backhand pass to (Sintkowski). He one-timed it. It was a good shot.”

Hancock struck a second time at 8:59 when sophomore defenseman Todd Kilpela hit Stukel with a well-placed pass. Stukel flew around a Jets’ defender and put a shot just under the crossbar for the goal.

The Jets got one back at 13:50 when senior center Trayton Helminen crashed the back door and redirected a pass from sophomore winger Brogan Turner past Wroblewski.

The Bulldogs regained their two-goal advantage 5:15 into the middle frame when Sturos scored a goal that looked very similar to Stukel’s tally. Junior center Max Heinonen setup the goal with a well-timed pass.

Hancock then lost Stukel and Sintkowski to injuries in a sequence where Osterman caught Stukel with a shoulder check 35 seconds into a Bulldogs’ power play. Osterman’s shoulder made contact with Stukel’s head, and he needed assistance to get off the ice.

On the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage, co-captain Luke Mikkola put a shot over Kasen Helminen’s shoulder to give Hancock a 4-1 lead.

Turner pulled the Jets back within two when captain Kailob Bianco won a draw to him. Turner skated the puck into the slot and beat Wroblewski with a wrist shot.

Wroblewski made 29 saves to earn the win for Hancock. Kasen Helminen made 25 saves for the Jets

UP NEXT

The Bulldogs will face the Gremlins for the regional title on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. The winner will advance to the state quarterfinals at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

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