WELLS - Escanaba Esykmos head hockey coach Matt Hughes warned his team prior to Saturday night's game against Calumet, that the Copper Kings, coached by wily veteran Jim Crawford were better than their 1-10-1 record, and to be prepared to play at the top of their game.
In front of a rocking student section on the rare weekend night contest, Escanaba did just that as they skated off with an 8-1 Great Lakes Conference victory.
"Jim Crawford has coached those kids for many years and he gets them to work hard," said Hughes.
"I told the kids before the game that their record means nothing and they would have to skate hard and work hard. They took advantage of their chances and they capitalized."
Levi Wunder had two goals and two assists to lead the Eskymos and Nick LeMire made 23 saves in net, some of them beautiful stops on breakaways.
"Offensively, the kids played well, and they didn't have too many defensive breakdowns," said Hughes. "Nicky came up big and made some nice saves."
Calumet 1 0 0 - 1
Escanaba 2 5 1 - 8
First period - 1, E - Gauthier (Chaillier), 2:39; 2, E - Wunder (Pinar) (PP), 9:40; 3, C - Fredrickson (Mattila) (PP), 11:57.
Second period - 4, E - Lyle (Wunder), 0:17; 5, E - Pinar (Wunder), 6:08; E - Ritter (Aird), 9:46; 6, E - Wunder (Wood, Lyle) (PP); 7, E - Chaillier (unassisted), 15:50.
Third period - 8, E - Pinar (unassisted), 13:36
Goalie saves - C, Tyler Hubbard 7 (7-x-x), Ian Carroll 24 (3-14-8); E, Nick LeMire 23 (7-10-6).
It was Eskymo Night and students got into the game for free. The pep band was also present and kept the energy high from the stands. It was easily the most active student section the Eskymo hockey team has enjoyed in recent history.
"They packed the house," remarked Hughes.
Dylan Gauthier kicked off the goalfest with a laser from the right face-off circle that beat Tyler Hubbard above his shoulder pad just over two minutes into the game.
"Dylan hustled and kept his feet moving as he released the shot. That throws goalies off sometimes," said Hughes. "It was a nice goal, top shelf."
Wunder got his first goal seven minutes later directly off an offensive zone faceoff as he turned and released a slapshot.
That ended Hubbard's night as Ian Carroll skated in to replace him. For a while the change seemed to reinvigorate Calumet as they answered back on the power play. LeMire gave up a rebound to Eric Mattila, who then launched a shot that deflected off Maxx Fredrickson for the goal.
It didn't take long for Escanaba to put the game away however.
Jeff Lyle scored 17 seconds into the second period, squeezing the puck through Carroll's pads and igniting a five-goal period for the Eskymos.
Despite the lopsided score, Calumet in large part skated with the Eskymos, but was prone to defensive breakdowns and shaky goaltending at times. Crawford pointed out a handful of "weak goals."
"The whole team wasn't too good tonight," he said. "There were 4-5 soft goals. Escanaba skates hard and they have a nice team. They only lost three players from last year, and they were good players, but they're still strong. We have four first-year players and inexperience is big with us."
The Copper Kings did a decent job of realizing where Wunder, Escanaba's leading scorer, was when he was on the ice and didn't give him much room, but Wunder worked the corners well and pulled off some nice moves and made the most of his chances. He also rang a couple off the post.
"No. 21 (Wunder) is good. He's hard to cover, he gets those bursts," said Crawford.
Esky capped the five-goal period with a beautiful unassisted goal from a racing Derek Chaillier down the left side.
Calumet avoided the mercy rule with hard skating in the third period and solid goaltending from Carroll. Escanaba added its eighth goal 3:34 remaining, but never got the eight-goal cushion needed to ice the game early.
"They played like they didn't want to get mercied," said Hughes of Calumet. "Even killing penalties in the third, they were still coming hard and trying to create opportunities."
Calumet's brutal schedule continues next week as the Copper Kings will host University of Detroit Jesuit for two games at the Colosseum.
Escanaba (11-3) resumes Tuesday at Marquette.