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Houghton icers squeeze out 6-2 win over Miners

HOUGHTON — It is not often that when two teams play to a 6-2 score in a high school hockey game, both coaches feel the opposite way of how conventional wisdom says they should feel.

That is exactly what happened Tuesday evening at Dee Stadium.

The Division 3 No. 5 Houghton Gremlins defeated the Negaunee Miners, but you wouldn’t know it from the way the coaches talked after the contest.

“It was a good loss and was very productive,” Miners coach Dale Hopper said. “A lot of good things happened for us tonight, so it’s a good stepping stone moving forward. We’ve seen a lot of good effort from our boys tonight.”

The Gremlins fired 63 shots at Miners goaltender Ryan Kerkela as the freshman made 57 saves. Yet Gremlins coach Corey Markham sounded like a coach searching for answers after the game’s final buzzer, which made sense considering the fact that his team knocked off the Miners 8-0 on Dec. 19.

“The only way we’re competitive and good is as if we give 110% and then just work, work, work, and we don’t have that effort right now,” Markham said. “They can scoreboard watch and then think they’re going to (just) show up, but we’re not nearly good enough to do that.”

Houghton opened the contest by driving the puck in deep against the Miners and not letting their foot off the gas for the first 3:16. That’s when Negaunee finally drove the puck down the rink and had their first shot on goal as Garrett Mann wired a slap shot high that Gremlins goaltender Matthew Ryynanen had to glove.

After that, the Gremlins again pushed the pace of the game, and before the first period ended, they had thrown 17 shots Kerkela’s way. Still, Markham was not pleased with the way the Gremlins (10-6-0 overall, 6-1-0 GLHC) were playing.

“It just wasn’t what we’re looking for,” he said. “We’re not working. We’re not working like we’re capable of. We’re just not high on intensity; zero offensive plays. We’re not getting in position to make a play. No one’s looking to make a play. We’re slapping pucks everywhere.

“Lots of shots tonight, but very few often, very few clean offensive plays. Just not not very strong to me.”

On the opposite side, Hopper’s Miners were clogging the neutral zone, forcing the Gremlins defense to carry the puck out of their defensive end, rather than move it up to their forwards quickly. The confusion worked in Negaunee’s favor more often than not.

“We clogged up the neutral zone a little bit more on them and then made (it) a little bit harder for them to break out,” Hopper said. “It caused turnovers for them and gave them a little bit more pressure to move the puck out, so it was good on our end.

“We just kind of switched it up a little bit, little tweak to it to see what would work, try something new at this point in time to see if we can get some kind of different result.”

The Gremlins finally broke through at 14:03 when assistant captain Carson Stevens poked a rebound past Kerkela.

Houghton opened the second period by getting a major power play when assistant captain Niko Rajala was driven from behind into the boards by Miners defenseman Simon Lystila.

Co-captain Ty Halonen fired a shot from the left point that beat Kerkela at 1:46 for the Gremlins’ lone tally on the advantage.

Senior center Tucker Tapani created a 3-0 lead for Houghton when he knocked a rebound past Kerkela at 7:03.

The Miners (3-9-0 overall, 0-5-0 GLHC) then answered a little over six minutes later when Mann got loose and beat Ryynanen with a wrist shot from the high slot.

Looking for a spark early in the third, the Gremlins got one when freshman center Camden Markham poked a rebound past Kerkela at 5:04.

Senior center Brandon Trudeau and Rajala then struck 1:11 apart to give the Gremlins a 6-1 lead. Rajala, who hit the crossbar earlier in the period, pushed a rebound home for his goal.

The five-goal advantage was short-lived, however, as the Miners picked up their second goal of the night at 16:04 when Noah Penrose knocked a puck past Ryynanen.