HOWELL — The Howell hockey team got a close-up look at Brighton, and it was an experience the Highlanders would just as soon forget.
Howell played Brighton close in the first period, but the Bulldogs took the momentum with a shorthanded goal in the second period and broke the Highlanders down the stretch with five goals in the final five minutes of an 8-0 victory.
“We knew going in it would be a challenge,” said Howell assistant coach Eric Hirzel, who replaced an ailing Mike Mantua behind the bench. “We didn’t show all of our hand as to what we want to do, but you can’t get beat by eight and show the effort we had in the second half of the game.”
The Highlanders (10-8) kept Brighton (15-2) close in the first period, allowing only a goal by Jake Demski with 5:20 left in the period.
“They came at us really hard,” said senior Jake Crespi, who assisted on the goal. “They had a lot of energy coming in. I would say it took us off guard. I don’t think we underestimated them, but they came at us really hard.”
Tim Erkkila scored early in the second period, but Howell had a golden opportunity when the Bulldogs were assessed a five-minute major with seven minutes left.
“It was a momentum swing in their favor,” Brighton goalie Logan Neaton said. “Two goals, and it would have been an even game.”
Instead, Crespi stole a Howell pass near center ice, skated in and scored an unassisted goal 12 seconds into the Howell advantage, and the Highlanders never recovered.
“It let the air out of our tires,” Hirzel said. “It was a backbreaker.”
The Bulldogs held fast throughout the Howell power play, then broke the Highlanders in the third period with four goals in the final 5:24, ending the game by mercy rule on a goal by Mathew Kahra with 18 seconds left.
In a way, that was fitting, since it was his defensive play that set up Crespi’s momentum-changing goal.
“Mathew made a great play to force that bad pass,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “He doesn’t get the assist on that, but he made the right play on the penalty kill.”
Afterward, Brighton turned its attention to Saturday, when the Bulldogs will play host to Detroit Catholic Central in a rematch of last year’s Division 1 final.
“CC’s going to be different than this, obviously,” Moggach said. “It’s fun to win, it’s fun to win on the road, and it’s fun to win a rivalry game like this. A good hockey team, a great hockey program, and it’s great to come out with the result like this.”
“It’s nice to have momentum going,” Neaton said. “We feel like we’re playing our best hockey right now, and that’s pivotal. Either way we know going in it’s going to be a close game, a tight one, and we’ll see how it goes.”