Jeffers changes history, wins New Year’s opener

HOUGHTON – Last year’s hockey game between Jeffers and Grand Blanc entered the third period tied 1-1, but the Jets lost 4-1. Friday night it was the same story after two, but it was a new year, new result for the hosts in their New Year’s Tournament.

Travis Wesa and Stephen Butina scored less than two minutes apart midway through the third period to lift the Jets to a 3-1 win over the visiting Bobcats at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

“I’m pleased with how it ended up obviously, but I thought we started a little sluggish,” Jeffers coach David Bekkala said. “The last couple games we’ve let up some early goals and it’s tough to recover from. We hung in there early.”

Neither team scored in the first period, and even though Jeffers was outshot in the game 32-18, junior goaltender Dax Durocher stopped 31 shots to help his team weather the slow start.

“I thought we had a good first period. We came out, we skated hard, playing the body, doing everything we were supposed to do,” Grand Blanc first-year coach Bryan Byarski said, “and the second period we just kind of sat back, sitting on our heels all game from the second period on.

“Just disappointing, very disappointing to see how we play in the first period, and the stark difference between the next periods.”

Despite how play shifted in the second period, the Bobcats struck first, but only after a sloppy turnover by Wesa in his own zone that turned into an easy Jack Clary goal just 33 seconds into the middle stanza.

“Bad play on my part, but just keep fighting and the puck will find you,” Wesa said.

And did it ever, as the Jets’ senior assistant captain scored less than two minutes later with a rebound goal, after Matt Mantta took the puck hard to the net.

“(Wesa) will come to the bench and claim credit for (the turnover). He’s not making excuses. I felt like he made up for it,” Bekkala said. “He has 17 goals now. We’ve scored 34. He has half our goals. He never stops working.”

He and his team needed to keep working, as both evenly-matched teams battled through more than a period’s worth of scoreless play. Coming into the game, both teams had nearly identical winning percentages (55.6 for Jeffers, 57.1 for Grand Blanc), goals for (31-30 Jeffers) and goals against (35-34 Jeffers), and they’ve split the past two years against each other.

But Durocher made big saves early in the third, as Clary very nearly scored shorthanded. Wesa then notched his second goal of the game to break the deadlock on a pretty backhand goal past goaltender Mitch Behm’s blocker. Just 1:39 later, Anthony Harris fired a shot from the point that Butina deflected past Behm, and the two-goal differential would stand the rest of the way.

“The team started out slow, they kind of took it to us a little in the first and we got our legs back and the team started getting it together and put in a good effort at the end,” Wesa said.

Jeffers will put its 6-4 record on the line today at 3:30 p.m. against L’Anse in the final game of the five-team weekend showcase, while Grand Blanc will challenge Escanaba at 1:30.

In Friday’s other game, Escanaba beat Negaunee 9-0 in two periods, outshooting them 31-7. Six different players scored for the Eskymos.