Coming off a long football season that saw the Copper Kings advance to the third week of the football playoffs, there was not much time to pick a team and get ready for the Copper Island Classic over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Kings had to start the season against the defending state champion Hancock Bulldogs, and perennial power Cranbrook Cranes. After starting the season 0-4, it seemed the Calumet Copper Kings were a long shot to win Saturday’s Region 17 championship. After winning 20 of their next 23, however, that long shot became the favorite.
Saturday, two goals in the game’s first five minutes all but made it an impossible task for the Houghton Gremlins to come back. Calumet earned a 4-0 victory, and the right to play Big Rapids in the Division 3 Quarterfinals Wednesday in Sault Ste. Marie.
For the Copper Kings, the regional victory was their first since 2011 and first of the Dan Giachino era.
“I knew we had a good team this year,” said Giachino. “We knew we were going to have a shot. Fortunately, we won out this week and we are definitely happy about it.”
For the seniors like captain Rory Anderson, the championship was made special by the fact that they defeated the Hancock Bulldogs and the Gremlins — the two teams who had won the last five titles — en route to the win.
“It’s awesome,” said Anderson. “Calumet hasn’t won it in five years. It feels good for coach Dan Giachino and the boys to win this one.”
Anderson, who scored what would stand as the game-winner just 3:14 into the contest and added a second goal in the third, knew beating the Gremlins was not an easy task.
“Houghton is a good team,” said Anderson. “I think we outplayed them. They are a great team. They played hard. We just came out on top.”
Anderson skated down the right side of the ice when sophomore Brent Loukus found him with the puck just shy of the Gremlins’ blue line. Skating in on a 1-on-2, Anderson chose to shoot rather than try to beat the defenders. His wrist shot from the high slot snuck through Houghton goaltender Will Stier.
A single goal to battle back from might have been something the Gremlins could handle, but when Loukus extended the Copper Kings’ lead at 4:58 with his first of two on the afternoon, the hill became a much larger one to climb.
“That is just so hard to recover from,” said Gremlins coach Corey Markham. “For the most part, we have a young team. The last thing you want to do is give up two. That put us way behind the eight ball right away. We could never fight back from it.”
Loukus took a lead pass from assistant captain Ed Beiring — who had missed the semifinal game against Jeffers with illness — and skated into the Gremlins’ zone on a 2-on-1 with Anderson. Loukus looked to pass, but then decided to shoot and his wrister eluded Stier.
Loukus stressed how important a quick start — with multiple goals — was against the Gremlins, who had scored first the last two times the teams met.
“We got that first one and got our legs underneath us,” said Loukus. “Getting that second one was big too. It gave us a little cushion, a little room to make a mistake.”
After the second Calumet goal, the Gremlins settled down. Three minutes after Loukus’ first goal, Houghton senior Ronald Olson got loose in the slot, but Calumet goaltender Nick Voelker, who only surrendered one goal in the entire Region 17 tournament, was there to make the stop.
Voelker came up big 42 seconds later when Gremlins senior Casey Lentowich and captain Jacob Kruse skated down on a 2-on-1.
Three minutes later, Voelker stopped a shot from Gremlins senior Austin Goudge through traffic from the blue line.
Kruse had another good luck just under two minutes into the middle frame when he exploded down the ice shorthanded. Kruse got behind the Calumet defense and deked to his backhand. Voelker made the first stop, but lost control of the puck shortly after. Fortunately, no Houghton forwards were in the vicinity.
The Gremlins continued to challenge Voelker throughout the second period while his teammates struggled with Houghton’s physicality. The junior kept the Gremlins off the board. He finished the game with 28 saves.
“He is seeing the puck well,” said Giachino. “He is controlling his rebounds and the biggest thing is that he is playing with confidence right now.”
Needing a better effort to start the third, the Copper Kings got a nice boost of energy when Beiring jumped on a dumped puck in the right corner before Goudge could get it under control. Circling behind the Gremlins’ net, Beiring heard Anderson yell from the high slot and he found him with a perfect pass. Anderson wasted no time beating Stier with a wrist shot at 1:57.
Still not feeling like they had the game wrapped up with a three-goal lead, the Copper Kings added another at 4:49 to seal the victory.
Beiring got the puck in the slot from senior Trevor Johnson. He then fired a shot, with traffic in front, that Stier stopped. The rebound kicked back out to where Loukus had parked himself, just to Stier’s right. Loukus wasted no time putting the rebound home.
Houghton had a few more good chances, but again and again Voelker was there to make the stops necessary to keep the Gremlins off the board.
Big Rapids secured a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday night over Alpena.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with travel expenses. Here is teh direct link to make a contribution: https://www.gofundme.com/enpz3a-chs-hockey-state-playoff-trip
Houghton 0 0 0 – 0
Calumet 2 0 2 – 4
1, CHS, Rory Anderson (Brent Loukus, Trevor Salata), 3:14
2, CHS, Brent Loukus (Ed Beiring), 4:58
3, CHS, Anderson (Beiring, Izaak Avery), 1:57
4, CHS, Loukus (Beiring, Trevor Johnson), 4:49
HHS, Stier 12 8 10 – 30
CHS, Voelker 7 11 10 – 28
HHS: 5/10; CHS: 4/8
HHS: 0/2; CHS: 0/4