Lee Pietila admitted, with a chuckle, that beating his cousin’s team is pretty good.
But he and the Bulldogs were more excited about a stirring overtime win, 2-1 over Houghton at the Dee Stadium on Friday night.
The win was the sixth in eight games (6-1-1) for Brighton (6-6-1 overall), which reached the .500 mark for the first time this season. It was the first loss of the season for Houghton (9-1-1).
The Bulldogs, who are spending the weekend in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, take on Calumet at 7 p.m. Saturday before making the long bus ride home.
It was a game in which Brighton struggled in the first period, being outshot 10-5 and losing faceoffs at nearly a 3-1 clip.
“They were just all over us,” Brighton coach Paul Moggach said. “They got on us quick in the first period and made it tough to get the puck out.”
But the defense settled down and Jacob Price made the saves he had to (25 in all) and got help from a shot that hit a post in the first period and another one, with 1:24 remaining in regulation, that hit the crossbar and ricocheted high up into the stands.
“Hopefully it was because of the positioning,” Moggach said, loathe to credit something as nebulous as fate. “You could count five or six times each team had where opportunites weren’t converted. I think both teams played their hearts out, and both goalies were incredible.”
Indeed, Price and Houghton’s Marcus Gloss made play after play in an intense, high-energy game that saw only five penalties and infrequent stoppages of play.
Houghton struck first, when Cale Markham stole a puck and beat Price at the 5:30 mark of the second period.
But Brighton scored soon after, when Colin Bilek took a pass from Pietila and scored to tie it at 1 at 9:42.
That’s where the game stayed until midway through the 8-minute overtime.
After the referees called for a faceoff in the Houghton end to the left of Gross, Moggach called a timeout.
“Part of calling the timeout was getting the lines where we wanted them to be,” he said, “and to get (his players) calm.”
The timeout was called with 3:42 left in the extra session.
“Brad (Halonen) took the faceoff, and we set up for the quick shot,” Pietila said. “I set up on the inside, and the puck went between my cousin’s legs” — here was the quick nervous chuckle — “and I took a backhander and it went through his five-hole.”
It was a faceoff the team had been working on before it went north with assistant Kurt Kivisto, who did not make the trip due to the impending birth of his second child..
Asked if Kivisto might needle his players when they return, Pietila laughed.
In Kivisto’s absence, his brother Tommy, a captain on Brighton’s state champion team in 2013, and former assistant Rick Bourbonais worked the bench with Moggach.
But all the credit, Moggach said, belonged to his players.
“They won that game,” he said. “They got that play and they made that play. I think they were encouraged by the other players on our team during that timeout. Give them credit for executing.”
The contest was packed with action, with gritty play in the corners, tough checking, solid goaltending and a little luck when it mattered most.
“It defintely was one of the more intense games of the season,” Pietila said. “It was along the lines of the Stevenson game, or U-D. It was like one of those. It’s great to get a win in overtime.”
“That teams’ go a lot of character in there,” Moggach said outside his locker room. “When you combine character with good defense, you can do a lot of good things.”
For the Bulldogs, tonight’s game against the Copper Kings figured to be another challenge.
And, for Pietila and several of his teammates, it will pit cousin against cousin again.
“There are,” he said, grinning, “a lot of cousins up here.”