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Monday February 26, 2024
Eskymo Hockey Grinds For 5-3 Win Over Bay City

Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos, and to hear post-game comments from Owen LaBonte, Cully Hayes, Isaiah Boyce, and Coach Andy Johnson. Also click the AUDIO buttons to hear player spotlight interviews with Andy Potvin and Brody Lavesque.

The Escanaba High School hockey team braved the elements on Friday to head below the Bridge and compete in the North-South Hockey Showcase in Traverse City, and it came up successful as the Eskymos knocked off the sixth-ranked Bay City Wolves, 5-3, at the Centre Ice Arena.


“We always seem to come up one goal short, or make one little mistake that costs us the game,” Escanaba Coach Andy Johnson said. “We talked about that this is our chance to make a statement. There's a lot of people who are looking at this showcase, and how the north matches up against the south. It was a big game for us to come out with our younger squad and show teams that we can play hockey with the best of them.”


The Eskymos scored three goals in the second period to take command of the game, and goaltender Cully Hayes held off a furious Wolves rally in the third period, stopping 14 of the 15 shots fired his way. All together, Hayes stopped 31 of the 34 shots he faced.


“I was a little tired, but I had to keep kicking,” Hayes said. “It was a big game for us and we had to get the win. So, I just pushed through it and just try to see the puck and make big saves like that. I think I played pretty good. I held my ground. A couple of bad bounces, but we got the win and that's what matters.”


Owen LaBonte scored the first two Eskymo goals to help the team get off to an early lead, and then Brett Labre roofed a Ben Sands pass for the third Eskymo goal. Defenseman Isaiah Boyce, who won the team's “hard hat” award, scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the second period, helping Escanaba take a 4-1 lead.

“It just happened when the opportunity came,” Boyce said. “On defense, I just stood back. And when they were changing, or we were changing, I try to stay back as the last guy. The first one, I saw Owen get the puck, and no one is in front of the net, so I just go up when I have the chance to, and no one covers me. Then the second time, I just saw an open puck, and I was just ready to shoot it. You've got to be patient.”


The Wolves, however, got goals from Caleb Anthony late in the second period and Gunnar Weber early in the third period to turn the game into a 4-3 nailbiter. That's when Hayes was at his best, down the stretch, and Nolan Bink put the game away with an empty-net goal with 1:03 left on the clock.


“Cully was back there when we needed him, and Bay City was matching our lines the whole day,” Johnson said. “They were matching their best against Graham, Brett, and Cale, which made it difficult for them to make things happen. But they were grinding away. But that gave our second line a little bit more room to breathe, and Owen got the puck twice in the high slot and made them pay for it with some nice shots. I'm pretty happy for him.”

For his work, LaBonte was chosen the #1 game star for the second time. He says the second goal was a good one.


“It was me, Graham (Johnson) and Davin (Marttonen) out there,” LaBonte said. “So, I was like the high guy at the top of the circle. Graham and Davin were down low. I got it on my forehand from the left side and I just ripped it.”


Escanaba improved to 6-8-0 on the season, while Bay City, a Division Two school, fell to 9-5-1 on the season. The Eskymos avoided a repeat of their last trip to Traverse City, when they blew a late two-goal lead and lost to Traverse City Central in overtime.


“We couldn't let that happen again,” LaBonte said. “This was a big game for us. There's a lot of people (scouts, media) paying attention to this weekend. We knew we couldn't give this one up.”


Two other Upper Peninsula teams competed in this tournament on Friday: Marquette defeated the host Bay Area Reps, 4-2, and Kingsford dominated Lake Orion 7-2.


Escanaba has a late afternoon game on Saturday against the ninth ranked Plymouth Wildcats. Game time is 4:30 and it will be broadcast on FM-93.5, AM-600, and on-line at www.rrnsports.com.

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