If you look at the last time the Brighton and Howell hockey teams met at Grand Oaks, the 8-0 score might tell you the Bulldogs shouldn’t have a problem tonight.
Both teams would disagree.
“They scored five goals at the end of the game,” Howell co-coach Eric Hirzel said. “Once they started scoring on us, the sails went out. It was a pretty decent game against them (until then). They scored, and we gave up. It was a big lesson for us.”
The Highlanders (13-12) play host to the Bulldogs (19-6-1) in a pre-regional final tonight at Grand Oaks Ice Arena.
“It always seems the games are bigger there,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “The crowds seem bigger there. We used to play there and I love that environment. The crowd should be good for us and for them, and I think it will be a high-energy game. We just hope we score more than them.’
The Bulldogs played without four players due to illnesses in Tuesday’s 8-0 win over Jackson, and Moggach hopes one or two will be back in the lineup tonight.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said, “When got a chance to run the table long, you have to be careful to make decisions for the long run. BUt we have to win tonight, so it’s a touch decision. If they’re not up to where they can play, that can be a problem, too. We’re hoping to get one or two back and give us good momentum.”
The Highlanders haven’t beaten Brighton in the postseason since a 2-1 double-overtime win at Grand Oaks in 2009.
“We think about the playoffs all the time, and every year we have to go through Brighton,” Hirzel said. “It’s something we talk about throughout the year and prepare for it. We hope to be healthy (tonight) and get after them.”
Howell sophomore Graham Hassan, who had a hat trick in the Highlanders 10-2 win over the Eastside Stars on Tuesday, is looking forward to the matchup.
“We want to play Brighton because they think they have an edge on us from the last game,” he said. “They’re going to come in here thinking they’re going to steamroll us.”
Brighton’s Jake Crespi, who had a hat trick of his own against Jackson, sees it differently.
“Howell is a big rivalry game,” he said Tuesday. “The outcome of the last game doesn’t mean anything. They always come out and play us hard, so we have to stick to our game plan and hope we can get it done again.”
“They rely on a couple of guys, and have a couple of guys who can really play,” Hirzel said of Brighton. “We have to be aware when they’re on the ice and see what we can do to shut them down.”
“I think they’ll come out with a lot of energy, so we have to slow down their energy,” Moggach said. “They’re playing in their building, and we have to take away the home crowd advantage, if there is any. The crowd should be good for us and good for them, and I think it’ll be a high-energy game. We just hope we score more than them.”