Wesa goal gives Jets overtime thriller
HOUGHTON – Jeffers and Kingsford had each beaten each other by two goals earlier this season, so perhaps the overtime that transpired in the third meeting Saturday should have been expected.
But, after the Flivvers led 6-4 after two periods, the Jets’ comeback and eventual 7-6 OT win certainly couldn’t have been expected.
Senior Travis Wesa, who had opened the game’s scoring with his 30th goal of the season, launched a bench-clearing celebration with a breakaway goal just 25 seconds into the eight-minute extra session.
“It’s nice to see the freshmen I had my first year who are now seniors have the belief in themselves that we’re going to play right to the end, and they did,” said Jeffers coach David Bekkala, whose team beat Kingsford 6-4 on Dec. 6. “Hats off to Kingsford, they can play, but you know, I’m starting to think people might realize the Jets can play too. I’m exceptionally proud.”
“We got what we deserved,” said Kingsford coach Jim Peterson, whose team had beat Jeffers 4-2 on Feb. 2. “We got caught at least four goals on a defensive pinch. That’s all we talked about, and we just keep on doing it. Jeffers came back and beat us plain and simple. You can’t just lay back on anybody.”
Kingsford played the comeback role earlier in the game, though. Wesa fired a shot off a give-and-go with Matt Mantta – from the near-side corner, to behind the goal line, to the front of the net – and Wesa followed his own rebound to give the hosts a 1-0 lead 10:43 into the period. It was just 26 seconds into the game’s first power play.
But it only took the Flivvers 25 seconds after Wesa’s tally to deadlock the game when Marcus Andrews buried a hard rebound past Dax Durocher.
The teams exchanged goals once again late in the first period, with Troy Dunstan putting Jeffers ahead again 2-1, followed 1:38 later by Reid Pietila’s finish of a tape-to-tape-to-tape passing play from Andrews and brother Ted Pietila.
Kingsford’s top line logged extensive playing time, tallying all six Flivver goals – each with a pair – and accounting for 12 of their 16 points.
All the second-period goals came in pairs, with Andrews and Ted Pietila scoring at 6:50 and 8:46 to give the visitors a 4-2 lead.
Mantta finished off a pretty 2-on-0, which was set up by a Wesa lead pass, and Dunstan roofed a shorthanded goal created by a Tyler Bailey-forced turnover. The goals came just 42 seconds apart, and just like that it was 4-4.
But not for long.
Reid and Ted Pietila, who have three cousins on the Michigan Tech hockey team, scored just two minutes apart late in the second period, in the same arena (MacInnes Student Ice Arena) as the Tech Pietilas call home. It was 6-4 after 34 minutes.
“I didn’t think we had played our best in the first period. After the second I felt worse,” Bekkala said. “The third, they kept fighting, everybody kept fighting.”
Jeffers eventually outshot Kingsford 8-3 in the final 17 minutes – 31-19 in the game – but it took 10 minutes to get the elusive fifth goal.
Anthony Harris fired a shot from the slot off the crossbar, but he attacked the net, nabbed the puck high out of the air, dropped it to the ice and pounded the puck home. The highlight-reel nature of the goal may have shifted the momentum for good, and a Ted Pietila penalty just 37 seconds later only slanted the ice further in the hosts’ favor.
Flivver goaltender Wes Paupore denied a Wesa breakaway and Jedd Kangas follow-up with three minutes left, and despite controlling play late, the equalizer didn’t come until 35 seconds left in regulation. Bailey, who had “an outstanding game all game long,” according to Bekkala, scored the goal with Durocher on the bench for the extra attacker.
In OT, Jeffers resolved to follow the same philosophy that aided its comeback, play defense first and hope for a Kingsford defensive pinch to open an opportunity the other way. It worked for Wesa, who stole the puck at center ice, flew down the right wing and beat the glove on Paupore’s left hand.
“We just played defensively more conservative, and we were lucky to get an odd-man rush there. Their D would pinch and we would burn them on it,” said Wesa, who had a five-goal game against Kingsford earlier this year. ” This is huge for our confidence heading down the stretch toward the playoffs.”
Coaches from the two Lake Superior Hockey Conference teams literally flipped a coin to determine Jeffers’ league record between the two teams (2-0 or 1-1) since one meeting this year had to be non-conference. The coin settled on 1-1.
Jeffers (14-9, 3-5 LSHC) wraps up the regular season by hosting Houghton tonight and L’Anse in a make-up game Friday.