HANCOCK - The Red Team may have been up 2-0 at the 17-minute mark of Sunday's Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament 21-plus Elite Division final, but playing 5-on-6 was bound to catch up with them.
Oh, River Valley Bank/Bruno's Motors was playing within the rules. Their sixth skater, Roger Lewis, was with them but in spirit.
River Valley/Bruno's took back the title it lost in overtime last year with a 4-2 victory.
River Valley Bank/Bruno’s Motors goaltender Jason Moilanen stops an attempt from The Red Team’s Eric Sturos in the first period of Sunday’s Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament 21-plus Elite Division final at Houghton County Arena. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"That's for Roger Lewis, you know that," Dave Shute, who scored two goals for the winners, said. "Lew-dog was one of my best friends. The whole weekend was very, very emotional for me."
Lewis, a core member of the Portage Lake Pioneers and a regular with this squad in the annual Oldtimers tournament, died in January in a snowmobile accident. His jersey hung behind the River Valley/Bruno's bench at Houghton County Arena. Another of his jerseys hung along with that of former Pioneer and Oldtimers regular Dennis Sten behind the glass. Both were remembered before the championship game and throughout the weekend tournament, which took place for the 30th annual time from Thursday through the weekend at three rinks in the Houghton-Hancock area.
"I'm from Minneapolis and Lew-dog would want me to be here. It's definitely a way to remember him. Lew-dog wouldn't want us to sulk over anything. He wants the puck to be dropped and play some good hockey, you know what I mean?" Shute said.
"It's been a difficult time for a lot of us that have been close to him, but the game of hockey and with the guys that skate him and have played on this team, it's one of the ways to help them get through it as well," Jeff Mikesch of River Valley/Bruno's said.
Still, the trophy had to be decided on the ice and the Reds got off to the better start.
John Kivisto's point shot was deflected in by Dwight Helminen for the game's first goal 11:22 in. Helminen, the former University of Michigan player and National Hockey League pro, added an assist on Aaron Kiilunen's goal at 16:15.
The Reds held a 2-to-1 shot advantage through the first of the two 30-minute running time periods, but River Valley/Bruno's pulled a goal back late when Brent Peterson's shot trickled over the goal line just before a referee lost sight of it and blew the whistle. River Valley/Bruno's continued turning the tide early in the second period, finally tying it at the 15:15 mark when Pete Rouleau finished a play started when Peterson drove hard to the net.
About four minutes later, Shute grabbed the game-winner after a brilliant pair of passes, first from Tony DeLorenzo to Jeff Baril, then from Baril to Shute.
"All I had to do was tap it in, but that was a great play by Jeff and like I said, that was the easy one. I don't mind those easy ones, trust me," Shute said.
It was all part of a winning plan.
"The Reds are a great team. They've got a lot of speed, they've got a lot of legs and our objective was to just try and clog up the middle of the ice early on. They were still finding a good way to get behind us early on in the game. In the second period, I think we did a better job of that and it gave us some momentum. We caught them a couple times with some turnovers in the neutral zone and we were able to capitalize on some of those opportunities," Mikesch said.
The Reds made their bid to tie it, including a late power play, but couldn't get the equalizer. Shute added an empty-netter at the buzzer.
Jason Moilanen stopped 27 shots for the victors. Tyler Junttila had 25 saves for the Reds.
In the other divisions, M&M Powersports edged the Monte Carlo 2-1 to win the 30-plus Gold final. Fox Valley defeated Sayen's Auto 3-2 in the 30-plus Silver title game, and Coon Electric (40-plus Copper), ReMax (50-plus Legends) and Bear Belly Bar (60-plus Masters) all went 3-0 in round-robin play to win their respective divisions.
"Obviously, we were playing this weekend in memory of Rog. He was an important part of the team. The boys in the locker room always said he had the hardest working engine. He's still the block of this team. We're glad to get it back for him," Mikesch said.