Eskymos dethrone Blue Devils 4-3

SAULT STE. MARIE A crazy game came down to one crazy final play.

After yet another misplayed pass at the Sault High blue line, the Eskymos turned an odd-man rush into the winning goal with under a minute left to play and beat the Blue Devils 4-3 in a battle of state-ranked teams.

It was the first loss for Sault High (10-3-0) against Upper Peninsula competition, and revenge for Escanaba losing 3-1 to the Devils earlier this season.

Escanaba’s Nick Vandermissen raced for the puck down the ice, only to be beaten to the puck by Sault High goalie Nick McKenzie halfway to the blue line.

“I don’t know,” Eskymos coach Tim McCarthy said. “Everything happened rather quick. When the goalie came out, the guys that we had out there on the ice had the speed to get to it.”

McKenzie’s poke check didn’t clear the zone, and Escanaba’s Jake Eastin rifled a shot past two Sault High defenders into the open net with 52 seconds left in the game.

“He made the right decision at the time,” Blue Devils coach John Ferroni said. “It was the clearing of the puck that he needed help with. He made the play on the puck, but he needed the rest of the guys to make the play and clear the puck. They miscued on it, but I think Nick made the right choice to come out.”

The Eskymos took advantage of the Blue Devils’ defensive miscues in the offensive zone, tying the game 2-2 early in the third period on a TJ Myrick rocket from the right side, and tied it up again later in the third on an odd-man rush with a Calvin Pinar goal 34 seconds after the Devils had taken the lead on a Kolbe Peller goal.

“It was the game we expected,” McCarthy said. “It’s tough to come up to the Pullar and come out with a win. Everybody’s emotions are up. We had to respond because the momentum had shifted. They could have been right on our heels and got another one.”

Yet another odd-man rush gave the Eskymos a golden opportunity late with Levi Wunder hitting the goalpost. The Eskymos were outshot 35-32 but had more quality chances in the third period because of

their transition offense.

“Right from the third shift of the game, defensively, we were bad. And we never got better,” Ferroni said. “We gave the game to them with our defensive play tonight. They’ve played great this season, but this was their off night.”

Eastin opened the scoring in the first before Willem Gauthier tied the game 12 seconds into a power play for a 1-1 tie at the first intermission. Blake Mastaw gave the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Nick LeMire had 32 saves in the win.

Escanaba has won nine straight but had feasted on a diet of overmatched teams, winning their last seven by mercy rule. Sault High, ranked No. 2 in Division 3, was a big step up in competition from Grand Blanc and Negaunee.

“To stay focused in practice knowing what was coming ahead I’m not going to disgrace any of the teams we played but I mean, you don’t want your guys’ heads to get too big,” McCarthy said. “I’ve got three captains on my team that keep the guys focused.”

The Eskymos skated toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils, who took the state’s best team, Birmingham Brother Rice, to overtime, and Ferroni said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Eskymos making the trip to Plymouth this year.

“I told Tim, I really think they should be at the quarters this year and I think they can get to the semis,” Ferroni said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re right there where they should be at the end of the season. They’re a good team.”