Pioneers take Gibson Cup opener


CALUMET – The Roger Lewis-inspired Portage Lake Pioneers just keep on rolling, and after Tuesday night, the Great Lakes Hockey League regular season champions are one win away from their fifth straight Gibson Cup.

Playing in the memory of Lewis, a teammate who was killed in a snowmobile accident earlier this year, the Pioneers gradually wore down and pulled away from the Calumet Wolverines in a 5-2 series-opening victory at Calumet Colosseum.

“Roger lived for that Cup, and to us that’s more important than winning the league,” Portage Lake coach Pat McCarthy said. “We’ve won the last four years, it originated with us in the early 1900s and we like to think we’re the caretakers of it.

” I thought we controlled the play for a good part of the game, but Calumet works hard all the time, they never give up.”

Indeed, it was a 1-1 game after the first period despite a 20-13 PL shot advantage; and only 3-2 in favor of the Pioneers after the second period despite a 17-9 PL shot advantage over the middle 20 minutes.

“We started out a little bit sluggish. We let them take it to us early in the game and they set the tempo a little but, but we battled back,” Calumet coach Bruce Coppo said. “It shows the character of our team. We didn’t roll over and die, but we just couldn’t seem to get anything going offensively, not enough shots.”

The Pioneers outshot the Wolverines 48-35 in the game.

Portage Lake dominated possession the first few minutes, peppering goaltender Ryan Patrick with shots. It only took 3:33 to break the deadlock when Alan L’Esperance fired a wrist shot past Patrick.

It could have spiraled down from there for the hosts after a high sticking penalty on Jeff Erkkila 5:02 into the game, but Calumet killed it off and evened the score just 1:24 after the penalty expired. Zach Babcock tipped a Wyatt Smith pass from the right corner past Pioneer goaltender Mike Wuthrich.

Early in the second period, though, the Pioneer power play capitalized. Kent Daavettila’s slap shot from the top of the right circle was too hot for Patrick to handle, and Pete Heinonen made the score 3-1 just 59 seconds later.

It was the kind of sequence that could have shifted momentum permanently, but Calumet weathered the storm thanks in large part to Patrick. He stopped Daavettila one-on-one with a big right pad save and swallowed the rebound with 4:38 left in the second period. PL’s Ryan Sullivan went to the box for slashing 3:08 before second intermission and it only took Eric Bausano 15 seconds to convert with the man advantage.

“I thought our goaltender played exceptionally well tonight, he had a great game,” Coppo said.

In the third period, Calumet hung around hung around hung around, but a sloppy turnover eventually did in the hosts as Pete Rouleau gave Portage Lake a 4-2 lead with 9:27 remaining with a wrister from the slot after collecting a nifty backhand pass from Sullivan. Alex Roy iced the win with an empty netter with 16 seconds left.

Game 2 in the best-of-three Gibson Cup series is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dee Stadium, and Game 3, if necessary, would be 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dee.

“We love the Dee,” said Coppo, who expects to have several additional defenseman back Friday than the four he had Tuesday. “Every time we go to the Dee we play well. It’s a smaller rink and we can corner them a little more.”

McCarthy also expects to introduce a few lineup changes this weekend as his Pioneers look to win their 15th game in 16 tries since Lewis’ tragic death.

“We have to play smart, we have to play our game and not worry about what Calumet is doing or what the refs are doing,” he said. “We hope to come out Friday and play the same game and walk away with the Cup.”