Special teams power Eskymos hockey

WELLS – In their final home game of the season, the Escanaba Eskymos special teams were certainly clicking, and given the circumstances they almost had to be.

Escanaba, already having broken the school record for victories in a season, wrapped up the regular season Thursday night with a 6-3 victory over Kingsford. With the victory, Escanaba was crowned co-champions of the Great Lakes Hockey Conference with Calumet, which defeated Marquette 5-2 Thursday night to finish with a 7-1 league record along with the Eskymos.

It was a night where the Flivvers had plenty of opportunities to get back into the game but key errors at the wrong time cost them. Escanaba capitalized on second-chance opportunities at netfront and scored three timely powerplay goals, two in the second period.

“All year, it’s been opportunities we’ve missed,” said Kingsford coach Jim Peterson. “It’s been a little bit wide or we’ve missed a pass, and we take penalties at the wrong time, which swings the momentum.

“But Escanaba, they’re quick and they’re a great team. We just have to be able to learn to take care of the front of the net. We have to clear that area and we’re just not doing that.”

Two of the Eskymos three first period goal came right off rebounds in front of the net. Escanaba took a 2-1 lead when Vandermissen scooped up a rebound and banked it in off goaltender Conor Berndt’s skate. The Eskymos then went up 3-1 when another rebound bounced to freshman Calvin Pinar, who found his classmate Hunter LaMarch in perfect position on the side of the net. The goal required just a tap-in as Berndt was caught out of position.

Kingsford got on the board early in the period on what could have been a costly mistake. With Escanaba on the powerplay, the Flivvers cleared the puck. Esky goaltender Nick LeMire skated far outside of his net to stop the puck but it was mishandled and picked up by Kingsford’s Ted Pietila. LeMire dove to block but Pietila skated around for an easy shorthanded goal.

LeMire recovered in a big way.

The Eskymos took an uncharacteristic nine penalties in the game, including three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and had to kill off three five-on-threes, two of them lasting over 90 seconds. LeMire and the Eskymos rose to the challenge and only allowed Kingsford to score on one of those opportunities.

“We definitely got into penalty trouble. Some of it was our fault and some were marginal calls that could have gone either way. The kids did a great job killing those penalties off, especially the five on three. It’s a difficult thing to do, but they kept them on the perimeter and got the puck out of the zone,” said Escanaba assistant coach Matt Hughes.

Hughes was filling in for Tim McCarthy who was feeling under the weather.

“It was definitely unexpected, but it was fun,” he said. “I’m usually the assistant and a behind the scenes guy. Running practices and setting up systems and powerplays – It was kind of nice to be the guy in charge of all that.”

Escanaba’s Levi Wunder wrapped up the regular season as the team’s scoring leader with 79 points (44 goals, 35 assists).

Escanaba (22-3) will open tournament play Monday at Negaunee. On the other side of the bracket Kingsford will play at Marquette.