Seniors spur Jeffers

HOUGHTON – Tied 3-3 heading into the third period Friday night with a Negaunee squad they had mercy-ruled twice this season already, the Jeffers hockey team needed a bit of a kick in the pants.

Jets coach David Bekkala understood this, but decided to keep calm in the locker room during intermission.

He just let his seniors take care of it.

Jeffers dominated play in the third period, peppering Miners goaltender Tyler Riutta with 19 shots over 17 minutes to come away with a 5-3 win.

“We needed a gut check to come out ready to play,” Bekkala said. “But they did it themselves. Our boys amongst themselves said, ‘we have to do this.’ I think they were a little embarrassed about their play early in the game so in the third period they came to play.

“That is a great group of seniors and they were awesome tonight.”

It didn’t take long for Jeffers to find the game-winning goal, with junior forward Brady Guilbault slapping home a rebound from senior captain Matthew Mantta’s wrister 1:41 into the final frame.

The Jets kept rolling from there, holding Negaunee to four third-period shots as line after line for Jeffers kept play predominantly in the Miners zone.

Five different skaters scored for Jeffers on the night with all three lines producing offensively. The Jets needed production from their depth too as top-scorer Travis Wesa was limited with a shoulder injury.

“Everyone got playing and their confidence was back up,” Bekkala said. “A lot of times they are sitting around waiting to see who is going to do it, but we all have to do it. I am very proud of them for that effort.”

After a scoreless opening period, the Jets found their way onto the scoreboard with some strong power play movement.

With Negaunee sitting back in a compact penalty kill, Bekkala thought his team displayed excellent patience to wait for the openings. Mantta lit the lamp first, walking in close off his own rebound to beat Riutta to open the scoring. Wesa received credit for the assist.

Sophomore defenseman Anthony Harris netted his third goal of the season six minutes later, after sophomore Nicholas Harris slid a nifty pass from behind the net.

“I thought we were making some nice cross-ice passes and I thought they were seeing their partners well,” Bekkala said. “We really made pretty good decisions with the pucks and if we hit the net a bit more we could have scored even more.”

Despite 10-2 and 8-0 losses earlier this year, however, the Miners didn’t stay down long, getting a pair of goals from Chad Larson to keep the game tied at two before briefly holding a one-goal lead after Nate Clisch put away a rebound.

“Our guys responded to those two power play (goals) and we didn’t give up,” Negaunee coach Eric Hill said. “The way things have gone this season, I thought we improved quite a bit. It is a good testament to the guys work ethics … some nice steps forward tonight.”

“I thought we came out really flat (in the first) and then in the second period it was like we were going the wrong direction,” Bekkala added. “It wasn’t like I have seen them play. But I was very proud of the third period effort. … often when you let a team hang around like that you can get burned.”

Along with the victory Bekkala was pleased with the spot-start freshman goalie Jacob Zerbst put on in relief of starter Dax Durocher.

Zerbst accounted for 16 saves, including several sprawling stops in close during the second period surge from Negaunee.

“We just felt like tonight we could get Jacob a shot and I thought he did a really nice job,” Bekkala said. “In the first period we really needed him otherwise we would have been down. He showed some good composure in there.”