NEGAUNEE - Tyler Riutta did his best to fend off the Houghton Gremlins on Tuesday night.
The Negaunee High School sophomore netminder made 61 saves - 22 in the second period - against the defending MHSAA state Division III runner-up.
But the Gremlins broke open a close game with three late third period goals to take a 6-1 Lake Superior Hockey Conference victory at the Negaunee Ice Arena.
Negaunee’s Chad Larson tries to skate around Houghton’s Cole Hagwell to get to the net at the Negaunee Ice Arena on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"(Riutta) stood on his head and he kept us in the game," Miners' head coach Eric Hill said after his team had fallen to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the league. "He was the only reason we were in the game."
Connor Hannon scored two goals and Houghton teammate Raymond Brice added a goal and two assists in their team's opening game of the season.
"I thought we worked hard. We emphasized a good work ethic and we put a ton of shots on net," Houghton head coach Corey Markham said.
Jeffers at Negaunee, 7 p.m., Tuesday
"We were a little sloppy. The execution has to get a little better and our power play has to get better. But I was real happy with the effort."
Dustin Goupille gave the Miners a 1-0 lead at 7:58 of the opening period. He buried a wrist shot from the left circle past Houghton netminder Jayson Wiitala, who finished with 20 saves.
The Gremlins outshot the Miners 20-6 in the first 17 minutes and would have trailed going into the second period had it not been for a goal by Hunter Rajala with less than a second left in the stanza.
"That knocked us down to earth a little bit," Hill said. "We were thinking we were going to go into the second period with a one-goal lead.
"But we didn't give up. We battled hard against an excellent team."
Added Markham: "That goal (by Rajala) was big. We outplayed them bad, but didn't put the puck in the net. To score in the last second gives you a lot of momentum."
After Houghton twice hit the pipe behind Riutta, Hannon scored what proved to be the winning goal. He skated down the ice, cut across the front of the NHS net and backhanded a shot past Riutta.
"Connor is very good. He's strong and real smart with the puck," Markham said. "Brice is another guy who will be one of our offensive leaders this year."
The Miners trailed but 3-1 after another second period Houghton goal by Luke Haataja until the 11:28 mark of the third period. Jonathan Bostwick, Brice and Hannon then notched unanswered goals for the Gremlins in the final 5:32 to put the game away.
"(The Gremlins) keep coming after you," Hill said. "For only having five practices ... we just have to keep getting better."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.