Bulldogs, Gremlins set for one more showdown

HOUGHTON – Too much speed, too much skill.

The Jeffers hockey team battled for 54 minutes Thursday night, but with Hancock determined and sharp from the beginning, the Jets could not survive the onslaught the Bulldogs put on senior goaltender Dax Durocher’s net.

Hancock netted two goals in the first six minutes, and though the Jets twice cut the deficit to one from there, the early hole was too much to make up and the Bulldogs advanced to the Division 3 regional final Saturday with an 8-4 victory.

“You know, it’s a clich, but to get a fast start in any game, any sport is huge,” Hancock coach Dan Rouleau said. “You start carrying that momentum and try to keep it rolling.”

Senior forward Brett Lepisto scored his third of the postseason to open the proceedings 2:30 in when Hunter Kero fed him a no-look backhand pass from circle to circle to give Lepisto acres of open net.

Wade Hanke tacked on a second three minutes later with a burst of speed to push the puck under Durocher’s pad. Linemates Kero and Lepisto assisted on the goal, while Hanke picked up a secondary assist on Lepisto’s opening score.

“We were getting to the loose pucks and we had great chemistry tonight,” Hanke said of his line.

“We were hitting each other with passes and getting looks at the net.”

Lepisto and Hanke each lit the lamp twice, while Kero scored once and picked up five assists for a dynamic six-point night.

“My top line was the top line tonight,” Rouleau said. “All three of them had fantastic games. Hunter Kero controlled many, many portions of this game. He did so many good things offensively, but he was very good defensively as well. I thought he just controlled the game.”

Jeffers stopped things from getting out of hand when Drew Morris took advantage of a sloppy turnover to beat Hancock netminder William Lucier in close.

Kero scored on a power play just two minutes into the second period – slapping home a rebound with bodies all around the net – but again Jeffers responded as Stephen Butina beat Lucier top-shelf with a nice wrister at the doorstep.

“I thought we represented ourselves well,” Jets coach David Bekkala said. “The better team won tonight, but I’m proud of my boys’ effort. I really am. We still played four lines and I’m not going to fault any of them.”

Hancock pulled away with four goals in the third period, getting two on the power play and two from sophomore Jack Fenton’ blueline slap shots.

That makes it six power-play scores in two regional games for the Crimson and Gold.

“At this time of the year, that’s exactly what you have to do,” Rouleau said. “The chances get fewer and fewer, so when you have a 5-on-4 situation you better take advantage.”

With Kyle Hauswirth’s snipe to start the third period, Hancock got three goals from blueliners Thursday with five total points.

“They have been a strength of ours all year jumping into the rush and we are really going to need them to stay sharp against Houghton,” Rouleau said.

Seven seniors from Jeffers saw their last high school hockey action Thursday night.

Bekkala said they will be missed as much for their character as athletic ability.

“I’m sad to see them go, but you miss them more as exceptional young men then you do as hockey players,” Bekkala said. “That’s the hardest part. They give me more joy than I can ever give them.”

“Jeffers is one scrappy team,” Rouleau added. “We never have an easy game with them and tonight was no different.”

Hancock will meet Houghton Saturday at 1 p.m. for the regional final after the Gremlins posted a 9-0 mercy rule win over L’Anse in two periods Thursday.

Connor Hannon and Jed Kallio led the way with two goals each, while Reid Pietila recorded a goal and four assists.

The Gremlins scored six goals in the first nine minutes of play to record their 23rd win of the season.

Houghton and Hancock met four times this season, with the Gremlins winning three of the matchups.

“You almost have to play a perfect game against a team like Houghton,” Rouleau said. “Obviously stay out of the penalty box. just play very sound defensively. Against a good team, you have to take advantage of your scoring chances.”