TRAVERSE CITY — Knock knock. Who’s there?
Season pause. Season pause who?
The Petoskey Northmen added their own punchline Monday, opening up regionals with a 3-1 win over the Tri-Valley Titans at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.
Petoskey had two weeks of league games cancelled and entered the postseason losing four of its last six. Now it’s due a matchup with Freeland in the regional semifinals Wednesday afternoon, back in Traverse City.
Tri-Valley, a co-op of six schools in the Saginaw-Midland area, scored first and early in the game.
Zach West scored after the first 3:35, assisted by Austin West and Carson Stewart. It gave the Titans a one goal lead heading into the locker room, despite the Northmen outshooting them 17-8.
“Our problem was 17 of those shots all went to the same spot,” said Petoskey coach Rob Higgins. “They were right to his (Titans senior Vance Vayre) glove hand, he was baiting us big time and the kid’s got a really good glove.”
Eventually the pressure on the net paid off in the Northmen's favor.
Derek Hebner scored for the Northmen 13 seconds into their first power play of the game, a hooking penalty from Austin West. It tied the game at one, but the Northmen kept the momentum. Garrett Bouschor took control of a puck rebounded by Vayre’s pad to take a lead 14 seconds before the second period horn.
Dylan Robinson had the assist on Hebner’s goal that came when Petoskey had grown its shot advantage to 29-11.
“It was good to set that tone early and apply that pressure from the beginning,” Higgins said. “It was good because we’ve had a couple of games recently where we’ve come out out out sort of flat, we didn’t do that today.”
Higgins said the constant pressure wore down Tri-Valley, a feeling he said has sometimes happened to his team.
“Just grinding and staying on them, wearing them down a whole lot. That’s kind of been our M.O.,” Higgins said. “We’ve been able to skate and we have a lot of guys who can play, so we’re able to sub in for guys that get tired which allows us to keep that momentum on them and keep pressure on them.”
Although Petoskey didn’t score when given a 5-on-3 midway through the third period, it shut out Tri-Valley and avoided a goal that could force overtime.
Bouschor scored an empty-net goal with six seconds remaining and Kolton Horn drew an assist.
“We were working really hard and that just sealed it for us, it’s what we needed to end it,” said Ethan Decker, Petoskey’s senior captain.
Petoskey, which also co-ops with Harbor Springs, Boyne City and St. Michael, started its season 5-2 then had two weeks of games cancelled. Upon returning, Petoskey took a win over top-10 Traverse City West, but lost four of its other five games ahead of regionals.
That stretch put the Northmen just over .500 at 7-6 to put them out of contention for a first-round bye.
“It was rough the first couple of games,” Decker said. “It took a couple of weeks, but we got back to it ... we just had to work hard to get back to where we were before.”
Freeland (11-4-0), a co-op of Freeland, Saginaw Nouvel and Saginaw Valley Lutheran that goes by “FNV,” travels to Centre Ice to meet Petoskey (8-6-0) at 4:30 Wednesday.
Tri-Valley entered the postseason 6-8 and finished third in the Mid-Michigan Hockey Conference. Freeland won that conference at 6-1 in league play.
The winner of that game will meet the winner of Traverse City Central (11-2-0) and Manistee (0-11-0), which play later that night.
Higgins said the last time Petoskey played TC Central, a 7-2 loss on March 6, the score didn’t quite reflect how the game went.
“It was a lot closer than that,” Higgins said. “If our guys show up and are ready to play, I think we have a real good chance.”