NEGAUNEE - The future looks bright for the Negaunee High School hockey team.
But the youthful Miners were shown by Marquette on Tuesday night that they've still got to pay their dues before they're ready to play on an even ice sheet with the big boys.
The Redmen overcame a slow start - and some hot goaltending by Negaunee junior Tyler Riutta - to post a 3-1 victory at the Negaunee Ice Arena.
Marquette Senior High School junior Luke Schwemin, left, wins possession over Negaunee High School senior Cody Wetton in the first period Tuesday evening at the Negaunee Ice Arena. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
On the scoreboard, the game was closer than that, since MSHS sophomore Jake Phillips didn't score the game-winner until 2:24 remained. Junior teammate Luke Schwemin added another goal about a minute later after Riutta had been pulled for an extra attacker.
But Marquette, 10-10-4 overall and 4-4-3 in the Great Lakes Hockey Conference, began to carry the play almost as soon as the second period started, needing about 12 minutes to finally break a scoreless deadlock with a goal by senior Chris Amundsen.
"In the beginning of the game, we just didn't have a lot of energy," Phillips said. "We didn't really change anything we were doing. We just started executing better.
Marquette 3, Negaunee 1
First period - No scoring
Second period - 1. MQT, Chris Amundsen (Specker, Zerbel), ppg, 12:13
Third period - 2. NEG, Ryan Syrjala (Ryan Bischof), ppg, 3:08; 3. MQT, Jake Phillips (Cain, Fedrizzi), ppg, 14:36; 4. MQT, Luke Schwemin (unassisted), eng, 15:43
Power-play opportunities: Marquette, 2 of 2; Negaunee, 1 of 3
Penalties: Marquette, 3-6; Negaunee, 2-4
Goalie saves: Marquette, 13 (Johnny Beckman, 5-4-4); Negaunee, 39 (Tyler Riutta, 6-17-16)
"I think we were rushing around trying to do things too fast in the beginning. We started taking our time and doing things right once we got to the second period."
MSHS coach Doug Garrow agreed.
"We emphasized playing a lot harder," he said about that first intermission talk. "In the second period, we started to create some turnovers and we were moving our feet better.
"That helped us pick up our puck movement and led to a lot more (scoring) chances."
Marquette outshot Negaunee just 6-5 in the first period, but upped it to a lopsided 18-4 margin in period No. 2. The Redmen finished with a 42-14 shots-on-goal advantage.
But with Riutta in net, MSHS was continually frustrated despite several breakaways, at least one of the 3-on-1 variety.
"Our goalies have never cost us a game all season, and they've kept us in a whole lot of them," NHS coach Darrel Sleeman said after the Miners ended their regular season at 6-18. "We needed a few more shots to go in.
"But I thought we played a solid defensive game. We kept them from getting a lot of quality shots, and of course, our goalie played well.
"I told the guys before the game that one goal wouldn't be enough to win against Marquette. They still have a quality program there."
Sleeman added that this was only the second game of a new defensive system he installed.
"Negaunee really has a bright future with all the young players they have, plus the quality goaltending they get," Garrow said.
Riutta didn't give up a 5-on-5 goal, since Amundsen's and Phillips' came on the only two power plays Marquette had all night, while Schwemin's was knocked into an empty net.
Amundsen's slapshot past Riutta was the culmination of several pinpoint passes, first by senior Alex Zerbel across the rink and then from junior Brett Specker from the right boards to the high slot.
By the end of the second period, things looked bleak for Negaunee despite trailing just 1-0 because of the way the Redmen were carrying the puck.
That all changed quickly. First, Zerbel was called for an interference penalty trying to break up a play near his goalie, Johnny Beckman, just 1:42 into the third.
Though the Miners managed no shots on goal in the first minute of the ensuing power play, during the second minute, Negaunee's Ryan Bischof took a wicked slapshot that created a rebound for fellow junior Ryan Syrjala to knock home and tie the game.
Riutta continued to stare down the Redmen, who tried long slapshots, quick-flick wristers and stuffing the puck while coming in from behind the net.
Nothing worked until Miners junior Michael Farley was called for interference with 2:54 to go trying to break up yet another good Marquette scoring opportunity.
Just 30 seconds into the power play, Riutta stoned a wide-open shot by sophomore Tony Fedrizzi. But the rebound came to senior Justin Cain who slid the puck to Phillips in the slot.
"I got the puck, then I looked up and saw a clear shot at the goal, so I took it," Phillips said.
MSHS closes its regular season at home against Calumet at 7 p.m. Thursday.