SAULT STE. MARIE — One of the top priorities for the Sault High hockey team has been to shore up its overall defensive play.
The Blue Devils had an improved effort but fell 2-1 against the Escanaba Eskymos at Big Bear Arena Saturday. The Eskymos also beat the Blue Devils 7-3 Friday to sweep the weekend series.
After giving up seven, five and six goals in their previous three losses, the Blue Devils were focused on D.
“I honestly don’t care so much about the outcome today, I was just happy that we had a better defensive effort,” Sault High coach Rick Mackie said after Saturday’s game. “They were one goal better than us, but I’m OK with that outcome. We took a step in the right direction. We were better systematically and we fixed some mistakes. But when you’re losing 7-3 and 6-2, those kinds of games are disheartening and I take it personal when we’re losing that way. That falls on me.
“Our last three games (before Saturday) we’ve played poorly in the defensive zone,” Mackie said. “Too many stick checks and not enough body checks. We need to develop good habits again and find some consistency. The No. 1 thing to work on is taking care of our net and our zone. Our offense hasn’t been that bad but from the blue line back, we’ve been a disaster lately. After taking a step backwards, I feel now we’re back to square one again with a step forward. We have a lot more to work on starting Monday.”
After a scoreless first period Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils broke through with a goal from Evan Hoglund at 7:49 of the second period. Dominic Cicco picked up an assist.
The Eskymos tied the game just eight seconds into the third period. Brayden Martineau collected a rebound in front of the Sault net and fired it past goaltender Michael Bontrager. Jayger LaMarch and Sawyer LaMarch collected assists.
“In the locker room in-between the second and third periods we talked about being down just one goal,” Johnson said. “We were playing pretty well and felt like we were going to score if we just kept some pressure up. It gave us a lift to get that tying goal so quickly in the third period.”
Esky junior defenseman Gunnar Bourdeau scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 10:39 of the third period. Bourdeau’s shot from the point went through a crowd and past Bontrager. Karson Krutina picked up an assist.
The Blue Devils pulled Bontrager for an extra skater with 50 seconds left, but could not get the equalizer.
Escanaba goaltender Dylan Ziemke made 30 saves for the win. Bontrager finished with 33 saves for the Blue Devils.
“I thought we played better today (Saturday) than we did Friday night,” Escanaba coach Andy Johnson said. “We had a lot of chances but weren’t capitalizing on them. We played better in our own zone by far. We cleaned up our defensive effort.
“To come over here and take two wins against the Sault is a nice accomplishment,” Johnson said. “We probably haven’t done that too many times over the years. I know the Sault is young this year, but they are well-coached and those younger players will keep getting better. These two wins are something for us to build on.”
In the series opener Friday night, the Eskymos beat the Blue Devils 7-3.
The Blue Devils led 3-2 in the second period before Esky scored four unanswered goals. Esky went on to lead 5-3 at the end of two periods and tacked on two more goals in the third.
Brayden Martineau notched two goals and three assists, Sawyer LaMarch added two goals, while Jayger LaMarch had a goal and three assists, while Karson Krutina and Trevor Streichert also had goals.
Randon Blair, Ethan McDonald and Garrett Gorsuch scored goals for the Blue Devils. George Bauman notched two assists, while McDonald and Odin Medrick and McDonald had one assist each.
Esky goalie Bryce Buchbinder made 25 saves. Tristan Forgave finished with 21 saves for the Blue Devils.
Escanaba (3-2) plays host to Negaunee on Tuesday. Sault High (2-4-1) is scheduled to visit Big Rapids to play Big Rapids at noon Friday and Allen Park at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Division 3 Showcase at the Gaylord Sportsplex.
Contact Sports Editor Rob Roos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @rroosTEN.
This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Escanaba sweeps hockey series against Sault High