No. 1 Hancock and No. 2 Calumet clashing on the grandest stage the Copper Country has to offer: the Region 17 title game at Michigan Tech’s MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Hancock left no doubt. The Bulldogs are the bigger giant, and they proved it with a dominant 4-0 win over Calumet on Saturday.
“It is a big relief actually,” senior goaltender Dawson Kero said. “We know having the top three teams up here in the Copper Country, and having to beat No. 2 and No. 3 (Houghton) just to get out of our region is obviously big. You can’t really describe the emotions. It is just awesome.”
What’s more, Hancock defeated Calumet five times this season. But none of the previous four matchups felt like this. Not when you consider that last season, Hancock was Calumet’s first of many victims on its way to a state title game appearance.
“Going into this game, I kept thinking about that game and what went wrong,” Kero said. “I think it gave us a little bit more motivation knowing we beat them four times this year and we could do it again.”
Hancock controlled the game almost in its entirety, but when the stage was set for No. 1 against No. 2, it was an intriguing matchup.
Calumet began the season with four losses in a row, and Hancock started with three straight wins. Calumet started with a relatively youthful lineup, while Hancock was led by a senior core. Hancock has been playing at a high level all season, and Calumet was peaking at the right time. Different paths to the same place, but now that they were here, the two teams were oddly similar.
Both possess strong forwards with great speed. Both are anchored by solid goaltenders. And both have the same weakness: defense.
When it came to Saturday’s matchup, the outcome was sure to be decided by the team that put on the best defensive performance.
Hancock won the defensive battle, and in turn, the game.
The defensive performance left Hancock coach Dan Rouleau struggling to find the right words.
“Wow,” he said, pausing and shaking his head, almost in disbelief. “Unbelievable. That is the best our core of D played all year. Those guys played unbelievable out there. They got pucks out … They made smart plays, and I can’t say enough about how my D played today.”
Hancock’s defense was rock solid. Goaltender Dawson Kero made 24 saves, but several of Calumet’s shots didn’t even make it to the senior netminder.
Instead, Hancock got blocks from players like Tyler Turcotte and Teddy Perrault.
And when pucks did get through, Kero was his usual steady self.
“If there was a slight mistake, Dawson was there,” Rouleau said. “That kid is so amped up for the playoffs right now. I mean, what can you say? He has done everything for us in the past four years, and it is huge because goaltending is so huge.”
As the Bulldogs skated around the ice taking photos, hugging, and celebrating their victory, Kero had an additional reason to smile. In his four years at Hancock, this is the first time he’s ever shut out Calumet.
“To do that today was extra special to me,” he said.
Of course, the Bulldogs sprinkled in a bit of offensive firepower to go with their dominant defensive performance as well.
With 11:30 left in the first, Calumet escaped a Hancock power play unscathed. But seconds later, Bryce Randell recovered a rebound, and shot across the net, burying the puck for a 1-0 Bulldog lead.
In the second period, Hancock cushioned its lead with two more goals, one from Trevor Tchida and another from Austin Salani. Both goals came on the power play, where the Bulldogs excelled.
“The power-play goals were killer for us,” Calumet coach Dan Giachino said. “Their first goal was essentially a power-play goal as well because it was scored before our fifth guy got on the ice. So to give that up at the beginning of the game, that is a tough part. Then to dig out of that is just difficult.”
Tchida tacked on another goal in the third period to give Hancock the 4-0 shutout.
The Bulldogs knocked out their fellow Copper Country giant, but they have a long road to the state championship. The next step is a contest with Big Rapids on Wednesday in Sault Ste. Marie.
But that’s a task for another day. On Saturday, the Bulldogs were celebrating.
Because now there is no question: Hancock is the biggest, baddest and best in Region 17.