Houghton can’t cash in on key opportunities as Gremlins fall short in D-3 final
PLYMOUTH — For five minutes, there was hope for Houghton.
Even facing an early 3-0 deficit against powerful Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood in the state Division 3 hockey final, the Gremlins had a ready-made opportunity to get back into the game when they went on a five-minute power play late in the first period.
But when those five minutes elapsed without one puck getting past Cranes goalie Spencer Applebaum, Houghton’s best chance to get back into the game had come and gone.
There were still nearly two full periods of hockey remaining, but reality was setting in — Houghton was not going to beat the dominant Cranes on this March afternoon.
Houghton was outshot 50-13 in a 4-0 loss to a Cranbrook-Kingswood team that won the program’s state-record 17th title on Saturday at Compuware Arena.
"That was demoralizing, it really was," Houghton coach Corey Markham said. "You think being down three that this is our chance, you get one, maybe two in those five minutes. When we didn’t score in those five minutes, it was a little blow. We never just quite got that spark. We didn’t have that spark to give us a little pep, a little jump in our step."
Houghton’s big chance to get back into the game came at 15:12 of the first period when C.J. Regula of the Cranes received a five-minute major for boarding. The game was a stalemate during that extended power play, with both teams getting one shot on goal.
The Gremlins (24-5-2) wouldn’t get another power play until the game was virtually out of reach at 4-0 midway through the third period. They couldn’t do much with that one, either.
"Our penalty killing has been really good this year all year," Cranbrook-Kingswood coach Andy Weidenbach said. "We give everybody a chance to kill some penalties early in the season. We’ve got six to eight guys on our team who have really gotten good at penalty killing. They’re good on their angles. They’re willing to block shots, get in front of pucks. Our penalty killing has been our bread and butter throughout the season. We don’t take a lot of penalties, but when we do our penalty killing has been solid."
After allowing three goals on the Cranes’ first 12 shots, Houghton kept the margin at three goals heading into the third period.
Despite the Cranes’ lopsided territorial advantage, one fortuitous shot could have breathed life into the Gremlins. That shot nearly came early in the third period when Jonathan Bostwick carried the puck to the net. The puck wound up on the stick of Reid Pietila, who nearly snuck it under the pads of Applebaum.
Applebaum wasn’t quite sure he made the save, looking behind him to see if the puck squirted loose.
"I tried to slide it under him, but he made a good save," Pietila said. "I try not to be too hard on myself, but it’s kind of hard in this situation."
Not long after Applebaum’s save, the Cranes essentially put the game away on a power-play goal by Regula with 13:05 left in the game.
It was the toughest save in a 13-save shutout for Applebaum, who was also the goaltender when Cranbrook-Kingswood beat Sault Ste. Marie to win the 2013 title.
"It was a two-on-two," Applebaum said. "The first guy kind of threw it toward the net. It got deflected in front. The second guy, I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I slid over and he shot it five-hole. I didn’t know if I had it, but it was stuck under my pad, probably less than a foot away from the goal line, so I barely got there."
The Gremlins aren’t a team that can afford to squander scoring chances, particularly against the likes of Cranbrook-Kingswood. Houghton scored only two goals in two of its first three postseason victories, but allowed only four goals in five playoff games before facing the Cranes. It was only the second time this season that Houghton gave up four goals.
"We had some opportunities," Markham said. "You fall behind and they got three on us and then you have to try to create some offense. They had a five-minute major, so you hoped we’d create a little offense there. I think we created only one shot in that five-minute major, because they move so well and they don’t give you a lot of time and space. We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we were given. For us, we’re not a high-offensive team. To fall down three is a daunting task.