The Houghton Gremlins were on a five-game winning streak, capped with a come-from-behind overtime victory over Hancock. Markham had 299 wins and a chance to reach the 300 mark against Calumet. For a coach, it doesn’t get much better than hitting a career milestone with two wins against your biggest rivals.
But hockey doesn’t care which team has the best storyline, and it doesn’t take poetic finishes into consideration. When the puck drops, all that matters in hockey is who plays the best and who scores the most goals. And on Tuesday, that was Calumet (8-11-2). The Copper Kings came away with a 3-0 win at the Calumet Colosseum.
Markham isn’t the type to dwell on milestones or accolades, but with such a monumental moment within reach, perhaps the coach had it in the back of his mind.
“I absolutely wasn’t thinking about that,” he said.
What Markham was thinking about was the way his team played, and the coach didn’t hold back in his assessment of the Gremlins (13-6-1).
“We had no life in us,” he said. “They gave up a goal in the first shift because we were not mentally ready to play, and for two periods our effort was very minimal. The third period we gave a little bit of an effort, but it was too little too late.
“The only way we will ever be successful is if we are the hardest working team on the ice, and we were far from that tonight. Calumet outworked us, and they obviously deserved the win.”
Leading the charge in spoiling Markham’s bid for 300 was Calumet’s goaltender, Nick Voelker.
The netminder approached the game in the same way he always does. Voelker took a shower, listened to his favorite rap playlist to get pumped up and skated onto the ice. But when he skated off, Voelker had 33 saves and his third shutout of the season.
“We are very happy with the way he has been playing over the last month,” coach Dan Giachino said. “His games have gotten really clean, and it is the right time for that, exactly what we need going into playoffs.”
Houghton had most of its chances on the outside, but that doesn’t mean Voelker wasn’t tested. He certainly was — especially in the last few minutes.
As the Copper Kings skated onto the ice for the final frame, Voelker looked up at the scoreboard and realized for the first time that he had a shutout at stake. Almost as soon as the thought entered his mind, Voelker quickly banished it. Thinking about something like that is a good way to make a mistake, he said.
“I was kind of thinking, ‘All right, I have 17 minutes to get this shutout.’ But you have to push that aside or it kind of gets in your head and makes you uptight, thinking you can’t make any little mistake,” Voelker said.
He didn’t make any mistakes. In fact, Voelker had 15 of his 33 saves in the third period.
“You get down to those last three, four minutes of the game, and obviously you want to win the game, but you’d love to preserve the shutout,” Giachino said. “He played well and he controlled rebounds tonight. He didn’t give them a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Voelker isn’t new to big performances, and certainly not to shutouts — he had five last season, tying a school record. But he isn’t one to keep track of numbers, so he lets Giachino do that.
“I only know it was a school record because coach said it at the end-of-the-year conference,” he said, “I don’t really keep track of them, so whatever it amounts to, it is what it is.”
Voelker was helped by an early lead that allowed Calumet to settle in. The Copper Kings scored on the first shift of the game, just 23 seconds into action. Sam Erkkila was assisted by Brent Loukus and Dean Loukus as Calumet caught Houghton off guard.
Then, the Copper Kings added two more goals in the second period. Dean Loukus and Tanner Rowe scored to give a relatively comfortable lead to Calumet and elevated confidence to Voelker.
“That is huge,” he said. “Even to get that one goal cushion, and then if you do get a bad bounce, you still have that one goal to help you out.”
Houghton outshot Calumet in the contest 33-25, and the Copper Kings only got four opportunities in the second period (they scored on two), but overall, their looks were better than the ones Houghton generated.
“I thought maybe it wasn’t a quantity thing, rather a quality thing,” Giachino said. “They got some chances, especially late in the game. They got some scrambles and some opportunities, and Nick had to make some saves on the power play, but I thought we generated some good chances when we had the opportunity.”
Next up, Calumet heads to Negaunee tonight at 7 p.m. for a makeup game originally scheduled for Jan. 23. Houghton travels to Marquette on Thursday at 7 p.m.
CANCER AWARENESS NIGHT
Calumet wore jerseys with a pink ribbon design across the chest for Cancer Awareness Night. In addition to raising $3,200 for local cancer care, the Copper Kings also auctioned off their jerseys for additional donation money. The team closed the evening by signing posters for fans.
– – –
Houghton 0 0 0 — 0
Calumet 1 2 0 — 3
Sam Erkkila (Brent Looks, Dean Loukus), 0:23, 1-0.
Dean Loukus (Brent Loukus), 3:54, 2-0.
Tanner Rowe (Cam Kauppinen, Brent Loukus), 7:49, 3-0.
Houghton: James Pietila 22; Calumet: Nick Voelker 33.
Houghton: 3/6; Calumet: 2/4.
Houghton: 0/3; Calumet: 0/2.