HOWELL — To Howell captain Steven Mulally, the difference between his team and the Brighton hockey team was subtle, but telling.
“Every shift, once in a while, they had a good jump and they took advantage of our mistakes,” he said after the Highlanders lost 5-1 in a pre-regional championship game Thursday night. “I don’t think there was a turning point. We played hard until the end. It’s just they capitalized when we couldn’t.”
As a result, Brighton (20-6-1) advanced to Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. regional final against Orchard Lake St. Mary at the Kensington Valley Ice House.
For the Highlanders (13-12), it marked the fifth time in six seasons their season ended at the hands of the Bulldogs.
“We competed really hard,” Howell coach Mike Mantua said. “The kids stuck to our game plan, which was good. A couple of good bounces went their way, and they know how to put the puck in the net.”
Spencer Gehres was the first to do so, scoring the first of Brighton’s two power-power play goals midway through the first period. Brighton added two more goals in the second period. Then, the Highlanders got going, getting a goal from Mulally midway through the period.
“I think we lost our touch a little bit,” said Jake Crespi, who scored twice for the Bulldogs. “They got some momentum going for them and they jumped on it as we sat back. Once we got to the third period, it started tipping back in our favor.”
Mulally’s goal also came while the Bulldogs had a mental mistake, with just four skaters on the ice.
“I thought when they started hitting us, we went to their level,” Moggach said. “I think our skill was diminished once we get them our energy. Once we stopped reacting, it came back. Mulally got the goal because they got energy we didn’t have.”
The Bulldogs beat Howell goalie Nate George three times in the third period, although one of them, by Ben Peterson, was disallowed due to an inadvertent whistle. Once the game was out of reach, the Highlanders ramped up the physical play, but the Bulldogs held their ground.
Still, there was a scary moment for Brighton late in the game when goalie Logan Neaton went down after getting hit in the throat. Jake Haggerty was given a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Moggach thought the punishment should have been more severe.
“When (Haggerty) tried to take our goalie’s Adam’s apple out, I thought the refs were horrible in not making that call,” Moggach said. “That kid should have been thrown out of the game.”
Brighton outshot Howell 34-14.
Mantua, despite the loss, was upbeat.
“The seniors went out in style,” he said. “They worked really hard. They followed the game plan and we have a tremendous group of underclassmen who are returning. It’s all positive. It’s all good.”