Editor in Chief
The MQT Royales faced off in their first ever all-U.P. team matchup on Saturday, March 8 against the Portage Lake Pioneers of the Great Lakes Hockey League (GLHL). The exhibition game ended in a 7-4 victory for the Pioneers.
“(Portage Lake) is a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, but these guys are smart.” Royales Head Coach Mike Stanaway said. “They have seen every trick in the book. It gives our guys not only an idea of what we do in the playoffs, but what its like to play three or four levels higher.”
Ryan Sullivan was one of six former MQT Electricians on the Pioneers squad, four of which are still living in the MQT area.
“It's been about ten years since I've been back (at Lakeview Arena) playing in front of a good crowd in a competitive game on the home ice,” Sullivan said.
MQT started the scoring early, as Lane King drove the middle of the ice for a quick transition goal, just 28 seconds into the game. Dallas McLaughlin had another similar opportunity that went wide of the net just 14 seconds later.
The Pioneers formatted the pace of the game to match their size and power. Using accurate passes to slow down the pace in the neutral zone, Portage Lake was able to create a tempo matchup against the dangerous transition game of the Royales.
Scoring opportunities presented themselves for both teams throughout the second. MQT was able to get three rebound opportunities with 14 to go in the period, but the finishing shot on a desticked Harley White was off target. Pioneer Ted Pietila rang a shot off both posts on a backdoor pass just two minutes later.
The team traded two goals a piece in the second, as Nick DeSimone scored a one-timer from the top of the point above White's blocker to take the 2-1 lead. The Pioneers responded with 4:15 to go, as Don Joupperi punched in a rebound from two yards outside the crease.
Confusion surrounded each team's third goal, as MQT took the lead on a puck trickling behind White after the play appeared both teams stopped after contact between White and MQT's Jeff Salzbrunn. Three minutes later, a quick stop attempt by McLaughlin had a Portage Lake player knock him down to the ice, turning the puck over to the Pioneers. Pietila was able to slip behind for a breakaway goal, tying the game to end the second.
The first penalty of the game came early in the third on a tripping call against the Pioneers. MQT had three shots, but the best scoring chance came as Alan L'Esporance got a short-handed breakaway. Portage Lake had the same one chance on the power play after Hunter Heightland was caught tripping. The teams split the time of possession, but MQT goalie Walker Enstad stopped all eight shot attempts to kill the penalty.
Portage Lake took their first lead of the game off of a set play after a faceoff in the MQT zone from Joupperi. The Pioneers added another two goals in the third to take a 6-3 lead. Brett Hebert added a goal for MQT, but an empty netter with 53 seconds to play ended the game 7-4.
The exhibition game was set up Wednesday, March 5 to replace the first round series against the St. Louis Frontenacs. The Frontenacs were excused from the playoffs, resulting in a bye for MQT. After concluding the season February 23, the Royales would have had 19 days between their final regular season game and the playoffs.
“These guys are only a year or two years away from playing at the professional level. We set it up to give our guys a lesson on how simple mistakes especially in the neutral zone can cost us,” Stanaway said. “To see a skilled team make us pay for our mistakes so were a little more careful going into the playoffs."
The Royales will play the Wooster Oilers in the second round of the MnJHL playoffs, after the Oilers swept the Central Wisconsin Saints last weekend. Games start Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m..
Brice Burge is the Editor in Chief of MQT Social Scene. He can be reached at briceMQT@gmail.com.