Gremlins put happy face on difficult week

HOUGHTON – Saturday, the Houghton Gremlins turned a tough day into a brilliant performance, putting aside grief temporarily for a 6-2 Wing Ding defeat of Hancock.

Connor Hannon and Ray Brice each scored twice as the Gremlins took control of the game early, going up 4-1 after a period.

“It’s been really, really emotional, a lot of tears shed. We tried to come out and win one for coach and we got it done,” Hannon said.

Houghton coach Corey Markham returned to the bench after the death of his father earlier in the week. He said the Gremlins have supported him throughout this difficult time for he and his family.

“This is like my second family and being around them is really good,” he said.

Hancock (11-10) struck first after a Houghton defensive mistake created a 2-on-0. Brett Lepisto poked the puck in on a second effort for the goal at 2:59.

Hancock was deep into its second power play of the game in the sixth minute when Hannon and Brice sprung a shorthanded 2-on-1. Hannon kept it and took the shot high to the stick side to tie it at 5:55. He aded a second unassisted goal about five minutes later, stealing the puck and coming out of the corner to fire past Hancock goalie Jacob Givens at 11:12.

“We had a lot of odd-man breaks. Any time we get an odd-man break we want to finish. We got the chances today and we beared down and got them,” Hannon said.

The second goal triggered an unraveling of sorts for the Bulldogs, who took a penalty on the next shift and paid for it when Brice deflected in Hunter Rajala’s point shot just five seconds into the power play and 30 seconds after Hannon’s goal.

The Gremlins (17-4) closed out their masterful period when, on a 3-on-2, Hannon and Brice weaved their way into the zone, Hannon slipping it to Brice for a dazzling finish at 15:46.

“With effort and talent you’re going to create a lot of good things. I thought they came with a real hard drive today and they let their talent level speak for themselves,” Markham said of his elite pair, which has combined for 55 goals this season (Brice 31, Hannon 24).

Hancock coach Dan Rouleau replaced Givens in goal with William Lucier to light a fire under his team, but all it did was stop the bleeding, and barely that. Spencer Donnelly and Rajala tallied for Houghton in the last two periods before Hunter Kero, another grandson of Markham’s late father Jim, made his mark on the scoresheet for Hancock with 10:23 to go.

“We got off to a good start, but they quickly stole the momentum from us and carried it all the way throughout that whole first period. Against a good team like Houghton, you can’t let them build momentum because they’ve got too many good guys on that team to take advantage of that,” Rouleau said. “What it came down to a lot was too many times in the first period I saw a black jersey skate by a white jersey.”

Jayson Wiitala earned the win with 25 saves for Houghton, while Givens and Lucier combined to stop 27 shots for the Bulldogs.

Houghton is scheduled to play at Calumet tonight as part of the Valentine’s Day Mass-a-Cure event at the Colosseum, while Hancock’s next action is this Saturday at Escanaba.