WELLS - It was a dogfight from start to finish, but the Escanaba Eskymos were unable to convert on some key power play opportunities and fell to the undefeated Sault Ste. Marie Blue Devils 3-1 Wednesday.
"We've been here many times before, and it seems that the big plays make it in this building," said Blue Devils coach John Ferroni. "Tonight, we made the big play, and they didn't."
The Eskymos struck first, catching the Blue Devils off guard with a Nick Vandermissen goal from the low slot just 22 seconds into the first period.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Nick Vandermissen (8) squares off against Kyle TenEyck (5) of the Sault Ste. Marie Blue Devils in the second period of their game Wednesday. The Blue Devils won 3-1.
Although penalties were few and far between throughout the game, Sault Ste. Marie was called for interference, giving the Eskymos their first power play chance of the night. The defense of the Blue Devils kept Escanaba at bay, and with 6:54 remaining in the first, Benjamin LaCross tied the game at 1-1 with a slapshot from the left point.
Hard-nosed defensive play was also the story in the second period, as Escanaba only came away with two shots on goal in 17 minutes of play. The Blue Devils had 11, and Willen Gauthier was able to turn one of them into a goal with a chip shot right in front of the Escanaba goal, giving his team a 2-1 advantage.
"Things really changed in the second period," Ferroni said. "The energy we had in that period changed the momentum, and ultimately the game. We really got after the puck."
Sault Ste. Marie 1 1 1 - 3
Escanaba 1 0 0 - 1
E, Vandermissen (Wunder), 16:38
S, LaCross (TenEyck), 6:54
S, Gauthier (Hillock, Meehan), 5:43
S, Hazen (unassisted), 0:18
Power play opportunities
Sault Ste. Marie, 0-1
Sault Ste. Marie, 4-8
Sault Ste. Marie: McKenzie, 18
Escanaba: LeMire, 24
About a minute after Gauthier's goal, Escanaba was called for a head contact penalty, but the Eskymos were able to ensure that they would not fall further behind by keeping the puck out of the Escanaba zone as much as possible during the power play.
The Blue Devils turned the puck over in front of their own net a handful of times during the second period, but were able to recover from their mistakes and maintain their one-goal lead heading into the final period.
"We definitely came out in the third (period) with some urgency," said Escanaba coach Tim McCarthy. "It was our best period of the night."
Less than seven minutes in, and the Eskymos had already gotten more shots off than they did in the entire second period. They were skating well, but Blue Devils goalie Nickolas McKenzie was not about to let Escanaba creep its way back into the game.
But with about four minutes remaining in the game, Sault Ste. Marie was called for tripping, and the Eskymos had a power play. There were several chances, but Escanaba was robbed of a couple opportunities to tie it up.
Just as that power play ended, the Blue Devils were called for high sticking with about one minute remaining in the game. However, Levi Wunder was then called for a trip shortly afterward, and the numbers were even for the remainder.
The Eskymos pulled goaltender Nick LeMire for an extra attacker, and the Blue Devils' Christopher Hazen tipped in an unassisted empty net goal with 18 seconds remaining.
"I thought we played just like we needed to," Ferroni added. "Against this team, you have to keep the penalties down, and we were able to do that."
The Blue Devils improve to 5-0, while Escanaba falls to 1-1.
"Nick LeMire kept us in the game," McCarthy said. "We came out a little slow, but it was awesome work by the guys overall. This Sault team is very fast, they moved well, and their goalie came up with some big stops down the stretch."
Escanaba heads to Traverse City Friday to face Macomb Dakota at 7:30p.m. in the opener of the Traverse Bay Area Reps tournament.