BRIGHTON — The Howell hockey team went to the Kensington Valley Ice House to get a good look at what it takes to win in the playoffs.
For two periods, the Highlanders went toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs, going into the third period with a 3-3 tie.
But a penalty gave Brighton a power play to start the third, and the Bulldogs broke the tie with a power-play goal by Keith Wikman and took it from there en route to a 7-3 victory.
“We needed this (win) so bad,” said Brighton coach Paul Moggach, whose team had lost three of its previous four games. “We’re going into a break, where we don’t play until (Feb. 19), and it’s good to go into that with a win behind us.”
The win over a longtime rival likely eased the pain of hearing that Livonia Stevenson had clinched the Kensington Conference championship by beating Livonia Churchill 3-2. That win snapped Brighton’s four-year hold on the KLAA championship.
So a win over Howell would have to be enough, but the Highlanders weren’t in an accommodating move.
Graham Hassan and Thomas Wever scored for the Highlanders in the first period, which ended in a 2-2 tie, and Colton O’Doherty gave the Highlanders a 3-2 lead midway through the second.
“Things were clicking,” Howell’s Justin Zeiter said. “Bounces were going our way and we gave it to them, all we got.”
Sam Brennan tied the score with a power-play goal late in the period.
Between periods, Brighton junior Jake Crespi said Moggach “got us really pumped up. We knew we had to come out flying.”
Told that, the coach smiled. Asked if the speech was more fire and brimstone, he said, “Yes. It was.
“I told them, this is Howell. All of the boys who have played here (in previous years) and are scattered to the ends of the earth would love these 17 minutes, to have a chance at Howell one more time. I told them they had to honor that.”
No matter the approach, Keith Wikman’s goal with six seconds left in Brighton’s power play to start the third gave the Bulldogs the kick-start they needed.
“That was a game-changer, for sure,” said sophomore Brody White, who assisted on Brad Halonen’s goal with 5:53 left that effectively put the game out of reach.
Still, the Highlanders had a chance. When Lee Pietila went off after a major penalty late in the game, Howell pulled goalie Noah Wolfram to put six skaters on the ice.
But the strategy backfired when Brighton’s Ben Peterson stole a puck and fired it in from the red line for a shorthanded empty-net goal.
“I didn’t know their goalie was out (of the net),” Moggach said. “But yeah, I think it broke them.”
For Howell, it was a game that got away from the Highlanders in the third period.
“Their conditioning prevailed,” Mantua said. “They looked more in shape than we did. … We played two good periods against them. We have to find a way to put together a complete game against them and win a playoff game. It’s a whole different type of speed.”
Howell got a bye in the pre-regional and could play Brighton again on March 2, should the Bulldogs get past Jackson on Feb. 29.
“We’ll have to come out next game and play them harder,” Zeiter said. “I think we’ll have them.”
In the meantime, Howell plays host to Farmington for its Senior Night on Friday, then plays Clarkston at Clark Park in Detroit on Sunday in an outdoor contest.
“That should be fun,” Mantua said. “A good stress-buster.”
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, enjoyed a win over their longtime rivals.
“It’s a lot of fun,” White said. “It means a lot to us. It’s not an ordinary game. It’s a rivalry game. It’s always nice to win those.”