They've picked up steam, and just at the right time.
The Petoskey High School hockey team earned its third straight win Saturday as the Northmen topped the Bay Area Thunder, 3-2, in overtime in their regular-season home finale at Griffin Arena on Senior Night. The win came less than 24 hours after Petoskey rolled past the Northwest Warriors, 8-2, in a non-league home win on Friday.
With the weekend sweep, the Northmen improve to 7-14-1 overall and take some much-needed momentum into their Big North Conference finale at Traverse City Central on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
Petoskey, 2-6-1 league, fell to the Trojans, 3-2, on Jan. 5 at Griffin Arena. T.C. Central is 12-10-0 overall, 7-2-0 league. T.C. West clinched the league title Saturday and is now 9-12-1 overall, 9-1-0 league.
"There's no reason to change our game plan the rest of the season," first-year Petoskey coach Craig Coxe said. "We know T.C. Central will be a good team. They have a good club and we were really close to beating them a month ago. We know we can stick in there with them, but we'll have to capitalize on our opportunities because they certainly don't give you many."
On Friday, Petoskey sophomore defenseman Ken Forton capitalized on his opportunities as the rugged blueliner registered his first career hat trick to lead the Northmen past the Northwest Warriors. On Saturday, sophomore forward Tanner Davis scored a power play goal in overtime to lift the Northmen, who trailed 2-0 going into the third period.
Forton's hat trick was the first by a Northman since Jesse Ruggles accomplished the feat in January of 2008.
"It feels great," Coxe said of the weekend sweep, Petoskey's first of the season. "I know the kids all feel good about the way they've been playing and that's three in a row. We went into Alpena shorthanded, but we played well and the thing we haven't done well this year is have back-to-back consistent games.
"We put three games together and we've played as a team just about perfect."
On Saturday, Bay Area took a 2-0 lead through two periods as Nick Rafaill scored in the first period and Adam
Beuthin scored late in the second.
Petoskey responded in the third period as Chris Howard made it 2-1 with 15 minutes, 13 seconds to play with help from Skye Pieffer. Senior Carter Bazaire then tied the game with just under four minutes to go. Linemates Pieffer and Howard had the assists.
In overtime, Petoskey was rewarded a power play and capitalized with just over a minute to play as Davis pounced on a rebound and buried a shot past Bay Area goaltender Elliott Wrasse.
"We beat that team a month ago in Bay City, but that team has really improved since then," Coxe said. "We knew it wasn't going to be a cakewalk and we were down 2-0 going into the third. We could've very easily packed in the tent, but we didn't. We kept coming, kept working and just waited for our opportunities. We were fortunate enough to get a power play at the end of overtime and we scored on the power play."
Junior Dillon Kelley earned the win in goal for the Northmen as he turned aside 25 shots, including two breakaway chances, one of which came in overtime. Wrasse had 26 saves in goal for the Thunder.
"It came down to a goaltender's dual and Dillon came up with some really great saves," Coxe said. "He stopped a key breakaway in overtime and their goalie played really well too. He stopped a two-on-one with Howard and Pieffer when everybody in the building thought Pieffer scored, but the puck was in his glove."
On Friday, Forton scored all three of goals in the second period, a period in which the Northmen scored five goals to erase a 1-1 tie after the first.
"We lost to that team (Warriors) in Traverse City and we should've never lost that game," Coxe said. "We didn't show up to play, so we got some payback here. We were a little slow in the first period, but we hadn't played in a week. It took us a little while to get the legs going again."
The Warriors, a co-op program with players from Buckley, Kingsley, Benzie Central, Traverse City Prep, Maple City Glen Lake, Leland and Onekama, took an early lead as Jake Stricker scored with help from Paul Watkoski and Drew Black.
Petoskey tied the game late in the first as Shane Severn scored in front. Aaron Cook added the assist.
In the second period, Forton gave the Northmen a 2-1 lead as he scored the first of three straight power play goals. Hunter Stinger added the assist.
Chay Worden then made it 3-1 with the man advantage with help from Davis and Stinger before Davis added another power play goal.
Forton then added two even-strength goals as the Northmen took a 6-1 advantage heading into the third. Howard and Pieffer drew assists on Forton's final two goals.
"Kenny Forton is an outstanding hockey player and when he puts his mind to it, he's a force out there for us," Coxe said. "But it just wasn't one or two of our guys who did all the scoring."
Sophomore Aaron Cook added two third-period goals to ice the win. Severn assisted on both goals, while Ian Morrison also drew an assist. Stricker scored for the Warriors in the third.
Kelley earned the win in goal as he turned aside 17 shots. Nathan Fitch finished with 13 saves for the Warriors, while relief goaltender Luke Somsel made nine saves.
"I take my hat off to the kids," Coxe said. "Just over a week ago, we were into the season and had just four wins, but I told the guys we had lots of hockey left and they did it. They've worked their butts off and never gave up, they never said the season was over and I love to see that.
"Our guys are still focused, their hearts are into it and everybody loves to win. The guys really worked their butts off the entire weekend and I'm extremely proud of them this weekend."