The Emeralds Varsity Hockey team faced one of its toughest tests of their season late last week, playing three times in as many days in a marathon that saw them finish the weekend 2-1 in a stretch that saw incredible comebacks, a dominant defensive effort, and a heartbreaking loss in the final minutes against a hated rival that ended a ninegame unbeaten streak.
The multiple game gauntlet started Thursday, when the Emeralds hosted Negaunee at the Alger Centennial Ice Arena in Munising. Just weeks removed from shutting out the Miners, the Varsity co-op saw a much improved and fired up opponent that pushed them to the limits in a 5-4 comeback victory.
It was the Munising players, playing on their home ice in for hometown fans, that starred early for the Emeralds. Carter Deatsman opened up the scoring, then Blake Walther set up Newberry’s Gavin Nutkins to make it 2-0 in the opening moments. Brody Gariepy tipped one home after Negaunee rallied to even things.
Tempers flared at the end of the second period with Negaunee taking the lead 4-3 and questionable officiating leading to an argument that got Head Coach John Nutkins ejected from the game.
Manistique rallied at the intermission and came back fired up and focused, earning their second straight come from behind win with a 5-4 advantage. Newberry’s Gavin Nukins and Team Captain Zach Burton led the 3rd period charge to complete the comeback.
The late momentum carried over into a Friday matchup with the Jeffers Jets. The game was the second and final home game in Munising this season and unlike the night before, the Emeralds left no doubt.
Every phase of the game looked sharp as the Jets were overwhelmed at both ends of the ice. Alex Noble earned his program record-tying third shutout of the season, blanking the Jets at one end while the goals came from all over on the other. The Emeralds struck early again, scoring 30 seconds into the game but the score was overturned leaving both teams tied 0-0 after 1.
The Emeralds came alive in the second period, when Austin Hinkson scored the first goal on a set up by Deatsman. Gavin Nutkins was credited with goal number 2 and the Emeralds were off and running. Carter Miller put the game away with a pair of goals in the third to secure the win which was the seventh in nine games for Manistique.
The final stage was set for Saturday afternoon inside the Little Bear West Arena as the Escanaba Eskymos came to town. Players in the preseason almost unanimously said the games against the Eskymos were the most anticipated of the season, and that intensity showed on the ice.
Proving themselves once again against one of the UP’s premiere programs, The Emeralds nearly defeated the Eskymos in one of the biggest games of the year. They played with poise and precision, controlling the contest even after Escanaba got on the board early.
Nutkins continued his hot streak, evening the game up with 1:01 to play in the first period. The Emeralds took the lead in the second on a great goal by Carsyn Hinkson.
With the Eskymos desperate for momentum, key penalties late in the contest evened things up. Escanaba tied the game on a powerplay in the final few minutes of regulation and shattered the home team’s hope 40 seconds into overtime, winning 3-2 in sudden death.
Despite the loss, the Emeralds are still having an incredible season, at 8-4-1 on the season. One of those losses came in a disputed shootout. The Emeralds have won eight of their last 11 games, and have not lost in regulation since the opening week of the season.
They face another difficult week with road games at Jeffers, Cadillac, and Manistee that will see the team travel roughly 1,000 miles and play three more times in a four-day span.