Kings have Dee-termination

HOUGHTON – The short hallway from the exit door to the visitors’ locker room at Dee Stadium was filled with exclamations, some repeatable, and even a dance or two.

Calumet’s 6-3 win over Houghton Tuesday clearly meant a lot more than the average January non-conference prep hockey game.

“It’s really big because we got honked by them twice. We only scored one goal in two games against them and got beat 7-1 and 6-0. Obviously it was big for these kids and it should help us down the stretch, there’s no doubt about that,” Calumet coach Jim Crawford said.

With the exception of the back half of a scoreless first period, the Copper Kings controlled play. In the third period, they finally turned it into goals: five, to be exact, three coming off the stick of Brendan Jacques.

“In the third period, we started coming out even harder trying to get those goals. In the second, we were getting a ton of chances, but they weren’t going. In the third, we knew they had to start coming somehow,” he said.

In another short hallway, the one leading from the home bench to the newly dedicated Don Miller Locker Room, the mood was decidedly different.

“By far the most disappointing thing to me was the night we’re dedicating the locker room to my former coach, to Don Miller, was the effort that we got out of our team. We didn’t show up tonight. Plain and simple, Calumet outworked us, outcompeted us. They were just a much better team tonight from goalie on out,” Houghton coach Corey Markham said.

It was Houghton’s first loss to a local team all season and only its second (the other being the final of the MacInnes Holiday Classic) in regulation.

Despite a second period in which the Gremlins were outshot 18-5, they led for nearly three minutes after Davis Farrey’s first goal of the season and went to the locker room tied at one after Reilly Schreiber’s equalizer. Instead of gaining a lifeline in the third period, Houghton fell through a trap door.

Bryce Johnson and Jacques scored back-to-back goals in the first 2:47, prompting Markham to take a timeout, only for Houghton to take a penalty 13 seconds later on which Robert Erkkila scored Calumet’s third goal of the period 25 seconds in.

“Our defensive zone coverage was brutal in the third period. When they got it in there, they were skating free and getting to the hard areas with little resistance. We’re not going to beat anyone, much less a good team like Calumet, when we don’t play strong in our own end. That has to change for us to get better,” Markham said.

A glimmer of hope appeared when Tristan Foltz’s point shot got through for a power-play goal at 8:14. Just 24 seconds later, Jacques walked in from the high slot and roofed the puck on his backhand over Houghton goalie Jayson Wiitala for the 5-2 goal and a near-certain victory.

After Jon Bostwick buried a rebound for Houghton’s only goal scored by a forward all night, Jacques finished his hat trick with an empty-netter 33 seconds from the end.

“He’s a fast player and he’s very creative offensively. He used his speed to get wide on our defense and create offense that way. He’s crafty with the puck and he had a really good solid all around game,” Markham said of Jacques, who has scored five times in his last two games.

Matt Prouty, Lucas Lahnala and James Sturos contributed two assists apiece for Calumet (10-7).

Brian Rogers made 23 saves.

Wiitala stopped 25 shots for Houghton (13-4).

Both teams are in action Thursday, with Calumet at Hancock and Houghton hosting L’Anse.

The Gremlins and Copper Kings know they’ve got two more meetings scheduled: first, on Feb. 11 at the Colosseum for Valentine’s Massacure night benefitting the Keweenaw Health Foundation, then again in the semifinals of the Division 3 regional tournament on Feb. 28.

“This is huge, definitely. Knowing that we’ve got them two more times this season already, even the first game of the playoffs, it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s great to get a win and know we can beat them,” Jacques said.