HOWELL — In what’s looking to be a three-team race for the Lakes Conference hockey title this season, every point counts.
On Friday, Lakeland and Howell met in a battle of teams with perfect conference marks, and the Eagles gave the Highlanders all they wanted before the Highlanders pulled out a 2-1 victory in overtime.
“It was a good paced game, two good teams playing together,” Howell coach Mike Mantua said. “It was fun to watch and the kids were excited.”
As it turned out, never more excited than when Russell Daavettila took a pass from Sheldon Sturos and beat Lakeland goalie Austin Gogola with 1:26 left in overtime for the game-winner.
“It was a great pass from my linemate,” Daavettila said. “I went from my forehand to my backhand and went five-hole. It was a great feeling, for the team and everyone.”
The loss lifted Howell, 5-1 overall, to 3-0 in the Lakes Conference. The Highlanders have a game in hand on Lakeland (3-0-0-1), which picked up a point for the overtime loss.
With only seven conference games this season, each game’s magnitude is increased.
Hartland has played just one league game, a 16-0 blowout at Pinckney last month, and has both Howell and Lakeland on its schedule.
Each team plays each other once during the conference schedule, although teams can schedule more games if they’d like. Hartland beat Howell 4-1 earlier this month, but that was not a conference match.
The Highlanders got off to a rocky start, taking a five-minute major penalty early, then having to kill off two more penalties later in the period.
“We were on the penalty kill a lot, which was unfortunate,” Mantua said. “But they guys played really well on the penalty kill. It was a good boost for us to be able to survive nine minutes of power-play-kill time.”
Lakeland had a goal waved off early in the second period, then got on the scoreboard when Ricky Rayner scored with 5:19 left in the second.
But the Eagles, who had only three penalties in the game, committed two within six seconds of each other moments after the goal, giving Howell a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:54.
Lakeland held off the Highlanders until Graham Hassan scored with two seconds left in the 5-on-3 to tie the game for the Highlanders.
“We got some good looks, but they did a good job of getting into (passing) lanes and blocking shots,” Mantua said. “It was nice to get that goal.”
There was no shortage of breakaways, but in the third period and overtime, Lakeland’s Gogola and Howell’s Nate George stopped them all until Daavettila ended it.
“We have some talented guys,” Mantua said, “and Russell Daavettila is one of the guys you’d want with a breakaway in that situation, and it was good to see him slide one thorugh.”