Eskymos save their best for last

WELLS – It may have taken 47 minutes for the Escanaba Eskymos to really get fully revved up Tuesday evening as the rival Marquette Redmen came to town. As it turned out, four minutes was all Escanaba needed.

With a three-goal flurry in the final minutes, the Eskymos came away with a 3-1 victory, sweeping the season series with Marquette for the first time in school history.

WIth the win, Escanaba (11-3, 4-0 Great Lakes Conference) has two victories over Marquette (2-11, 1-3 GLC) in the same season for the first time since 1989, and has now won three straight over the Redmen dating back to last year’s district opener.

“It’s great that we did it,” said Escanaba coach Tim McCarthy. “It’s always been a rivalry and for us to take two, we’re very excited, very happy. Even at 2-11, you can’t ever take them lightly, they have so much confidence. They did well and our guys reacted well to it, coming from behind.”

The Redmen, who were down seven players – including major contributors’ Forest Folker and Justin Cain, to begin with, came in with a gameplan and nearly worked it to perfection.

They frustrated the Eskymos with the neutral zone trap, minimizing scoring chances and forcing their skaters into errors.

“We clogged up the neutral zone and kept their big guns without too many quality shots,” said Marquette coach Mike L’Huillier. “We still have to generate more offense; we have to get more shots on goal. We can’t win with just one goal. If we get two or three, it’s going to be hard to beat this team with our goaltending.

“We played two-and-a-half great periods and I just thought we tired out at the end.”

After a scoreless first two period, the Redmen, ratcheting up the pressure from the middle of the second period on, finally found daylight when McKinley Larson beat Esky goaltender John LeMIre on the left side just over three minutes into the third period. At that point, the Eskymos had 20 shots on net. They would finish with 37.

The Eskymos were denied on a furious powerplay opportunity with just over 10 minutes remaining, but finally knotted it up when Levi Wunder ripped a one-timer past Evan Kyle with under four minutes to go.

“So many shots that we were taking were straight on the goaltender, but Levi took that quick one-time shot that came right across,” said McCarthy.

The game appeared headed for overtime, but with under a minute to go, Marquette’s Shawn Cornock was called for a tripping penalty. Six seconds later, Escanaba’s Jake Eastin stole the puck and fired it past Kyle for the game winner as the Eskymos raised their sticks triumphantly. Seconds later, Wunder added an empty net goal, his 23rd of the season, to seal the deal.

“We were talking on the bench (after Marquette led 1-0) and said we have to pick it up, bear down and win this one,” said Wunder. “It’s a great feeling to beat Marquette with the history and all. It’s just great.”

For L’Huillier, it was a tough loss to take, but he was proud of the effort from his severely shorthanded team.

“It was a good effort and defensively Kyle had a tremendous game. Of course, that’s going to be the key to our success. When he comes up big, we just have to score a couple more goals,” he said. “That’s a really good line Esky has though, and that’s almost three guys (Wunder, Nick Vandermissen, TJ Myrick) that could be all-state players.

“I’m really proud of our kids though, because they played so well. IT was just that defensive mistake that cost us, and then that bad penalty at the end with 47 seconds left, put the icing on the cake for them. The kids were totally inspired though and played with urgency. As a coach, I can’t ask for more than that.”