L’Anse hockey team puts up valiant fight before falling to Houghton, 8-1

Houghton’s Dawson McKay, top center, shoots as L’Anse goalie Craig Mantila goes for the save in their MHSAA Division 3 regional hockey game played Wednesday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

HOUGHTON — Sometimes the games you are supposed to win are the hardest.

Houghton Gremlins coach Corey Markham’s team learned that lesson exactly 3 minutes, 13 seconds into the second period when L’Anse senior Ethan Pattison turned a 1-0 Houghton lead into a tie game.

“Just to have the mental edge when you are the heavy favorite is sometimes tough,” Markham said. “I thought their goaltender was very strong and we were sloppy in the first part.”

It took the Gremlins another seven minutes, but once they found another hole in the invisible wall Hornets goaltender Craig Mantila — who finished his night with 54 saves — had erected behind himself, the goals began to pour in. Houghton struck four times in less than five minutes to blow their MHSAA Division 3 semifinal wide open for an 8-1 victory.

Houghton will face Calumet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the regional title.

Despite the loss, Hornets coach Nathan Turpeinen was pleasantly surprised with the effort his team gave until the Gremlins proved too much to handle.

“Honestly, my kids came out and shocked me,” Turpeinen said. “I thought the first period and a half, we skated our butts off.”

During a scoreless first 11 minutes, the Gremlins peppered Mantila with shots from all sorts of angles trying to sort out the junior, but to no avail. Finally, at 11:56, Houghton got some bodies in his sight lines, and the move paid off as sophomore Kevin Bostwick beat him with a wrist shot from the right point.

The game remained 1-0 in favor of Houghton until a trip by sophomore Seth Francois put the Hornets on a man-advantage. A minute later, senior Tyler Fish set up Pattison for the slapshot that evened things up.

The Gremlins responded to the goal first with shock, then determination. For the next several minutes, Houghton skaters tested Mantila in various ways, but the netminder kept things even.

His best stop came off a 2-on-1 between Dawson McKay and Jacob Kruse. McKay carried the puck into the left circle and fed it across to Kruse, who waited, set and fired, but Mantila was positioned well to make the save.

The Gremlins finally broke through when Kruse picked up his first of four on the night. He fired a shot from the high slot that beat Mantila with McKay screening in front at 10:49.

Just under two minutes later, Kruse struck again when senior Austin Goudge’s attempted pass from the left corner bounced off the right post and straight out front to where Kruse had parked himself. A quick shot before Mantila could set himself put Houghton up 3-1.

Only 39 seconds later, McKay batted a rebound off a shot from Rajala past Mantila. McKay had circled around behind the net while Rajala fired a bad angle shot that Mantila had to fight off. The only problem with his stop was that the rebound bounced right to McKay.

The Gremlins were not done. Just 1:37 after the fourth goal, Kruse completed his hat trick. While on their first power play of the night, Rajala found Bostwick with the puck in the high slot. Bostwick fired a hard shot that Mantila could not handle. The puck rebounded right to a waiting Kruse, who buried it at 15:00.