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Esky conquers Negaunee, faces Marquette in regional semifinals

WELLS — The Escanaba Eskymos kept their postseason hopes alive here Tuesday night as they skated to a 3-1 hockey victory over the Negaunee Miners in a Division 3 regional opener.

Esky, which improved to 13-13, visits Marquette (19-5-1) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Lakeview Area.

“They’re a much improved team,” Esky coach Andy Johnson said after recording his 50th victory. “Their goaltender (senior Pat Klumpp) played a great game. I think we were gripping our sticks a little too tight and were just missing our shots. The opportunities were there. We were getting shots and odd rushes.”

Sophomore defenseman Nolan Bink’s one-timer from inside the right faceoff circle concluded the scoring with 9:35 left in the contest.

“I didn’t see the play, but I think Nolan got a turnover in the high slot and got a clean shot on Klumpp,” Johnson said. “I thought (sophomore forward) Owen Labonte played a real good game. He was working hard on both ends.”

Labonte got the Eskymos by skating up to the net and releasing his shot from point-blank range 1:53 into the contest.

Esky outshot the Miners 15-6 in the opening frame, including four shots during a power play. Klumpp, however, proved equal to the challenge.

The Miners’ goalie also denied sophomore forward Graham Johnson on a breakaway with 75 seconds left in the opening frame.

Negaunee got the equalizer when junior defenseman Lucas Reamer’s one-timer inches inside the blue line found the back of the net 7:23 into the second stanza.

Graham Johnson gave the Eskymos a 2-1 lead on an even-strength goal from the doorstep 13:29 into the second, only six seconds after Negaunee junior defense drew a minor penalty and during Bink’s five-minute major.

“Lucas put the puck and net and found the back of it,” Andy Johnson said. “That gave them life and they were matching our intensity. When Nolan got the five-minute major, I was a little worried. When it got to four-on-four, I knew our guys could find the open ice. It’s playoff hockey when you’re struggling to score.”

Esky finished with a 42-27 shots on goal advantage. Sophomore goaltender Cully Hayes had 26 saves and Klumpp finished with 39.

“The boys played very well,” Negaunee coach Dale Hopper said. “We tried to get them prepared as much as we could. hey worked hard all year and came a long way. We’re very proud of the way we finished the season. Unfortunately, we shot ourselves in the foot by taking a penalty in our offensive zone in the second period. We were gaining momentum at that point. I think Pat had the best game of his career. He kept us in the game. We were gassed in the end.”

Both teams failed to capitalize on two power plays.

Negaunee finishes the 2023-24 season at 6-20, but Hopper is optimistic about next season.

“We have eight players returning next season,” Hopper added. “This was a good learning experience for the kids. They’re heading in the right direction.”

Negaunee 0 1 0 — 1

Escanaba 1 1 1 — 3

Scoring plays

First period

E — Labonte (Mattonen), 1:53

Second period

N — Reamer (Miles, O’dovero), 7:23

E — Johnson (Sands), 13:24

Third period

E — Bink (unassisted), 9:35

Statistics:

Shots on goal: Escanaba 42, Negaunee 27

Goaltender saves: Escanaba (Hayes 26), Negaunee (Klumpp 39)

Power plays: Escanaba 0-2, Negaunee 0-2

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