Brighton senior Colin Bilek lines up his shot in the game against Howell.
HOWELL – There was no bad taste lingering in the mouths of Howell’s hockey team from the last time it skated against its rival.
And after losing a lead early in the third period Wednesday night, there were no Highlanders hanging their heads, either.
Max DiCicco scored the game-tying goal with less than a minute to go in regulation and assisted on Scott Alfano’s game winner as Highlanders rallied to beat Brighton, 4-3, in overtime at Grand Oaks Ice Arena.
“It just shows that we’ve got to keep our heads up and keep battling out there and not let our heads get out of the game,” DiCicco said of his team’s comeback and after the Highlanders were drilled 9-1 by Brighton at Comerica Park last December. “We didn’t (talk about last year). We just kept that behind us. That’s last year. That’s over with.”
Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, Brighton received goals 1:32 apart from Kevin Czajka and Calloway Salmon to take a 3-2 lead.
But with 54 seconds remaining, and goalie Nathan George pulled for an extra attacker, Hunter Hirzel found DiCicco standing alone down on the goal line. From the point, Hirzel threaded a pass through the slot, and DiCicco roofed a shot over Brighton goalie Jacob Price’s shoulder to tie the game.
“He had his head up,” DiCicco said. “He made a nice pass and I was right there and buried. It was just a nice, heads-up play.”
DiCicco returned the favor just 2:07 into overtime. A shot from the point by Nicholas Stanko caromed right to DiCicco, who found Alfano for the game-winner.
“Someone dumped it in and my buddy Max DiCicco slid it to me back door and I put her home,” Alfano said. “And that’s all she wrote. Good night, Jim Kyte!”
Kyte played in the NHL, and that particular expression is popular among hockey players, Alfano explained.
The win, Howell coach Mike Mantua said, was revealing.
“We’re still in that forming stage as a team and we’re still learning a lot about each other,” he said. “That says a lot about our character, the kids sticking together and pulling that out.”
Howell’s last win over Brighton came in January 2011. These two teams are all but certain to see each other again by being in the same pre-regional tournament.
“Ultimately, we have to beat them here at the end of the year to accomplish our ultimate goals,” Mantua said.
Howell jumped out to an early lead on a goal by Aaron Eskola. Skating up the left side, and after a Brighton defender stumbled along the boards, Eskola walked in all alone and tucked the puck past Price.
But Colin Bilek answered right back for Brighton. Off a Howell giveaway, Bilek fired a low shot through traffic from the high in the slot and past George.
Nick Pratt, following his own initial shot high off the glass, was able to jam one between Price and the post to put the Highlanders back in front 2-1 late in a back-and-forth first period.
“We just have to get pucks to the net,” Pratt said. “The more shots, the better chances.”
George made 22 saves in net for Howell, which improved to 2-2 overall.
Meanwhile, Price had 24 saves for Brighton (0-5), which is still in search of its first win.
The Bulldogs have had a tough schedule early in the season, to say the least, and injuries have taken a toll, too. But Bulldogs coach Paul Moggach took a no-excuses approach to assessing his team Wednesday.
“In my opinion, you have to play three periods,” he said. “I didn’t know there was such a game where you can just go when you want to go and hope that things are going to work out in the end. … We didn’t really position ourselves well early enough to win that game. We continue to struggle coming out of the gate and I didn’t think we played well as a team tonight.
“They’ve got to play better. They’ve got to play better together. They’re not playing as well as a team as they need to. It really comes down to that. If we play fundamentally correct, we can beat any of those teams we played. (Howell) wanted it more than us, I thought. In the end, they got what they deserved, and we got what we deserved.”