By Dan Hardenbrook

The Thanksgiving weekend schedule for the Emeralds Varsity hockey team took them to tournament play in Big Rapids. Unfortunately, it was a tough time to try to mount a comeback after the season-opener loss.

The Emeralds were stunned in the final minute Friday, falling 2-1 against the Bay Area Reps Bears before being beaten on Sunday by Grosse Pointe South 6-1.

Friday’s semifinal showdown against the Bay Are Reps was supposed to be the tougher of the two games at the 2023 Big Rapids High School Thanksgiving Tournament, which was hosted at Ferris State’s R.L Ewigelben Sports Complex. The Reps are considered to be one of the best in the northern half of the state, and they handled the Emeralds with ease during a preseason scrimmage last month.

But hungry and motivated after a disappointing season opening loss at home against Alpena, the Emeralds came out battling, tying the game 1-1 after Austin Hinkson scored midway through the contest. Manistique’s top two forward lines and defensive pairing saw plenty of ice time, and goaltender Alex Noble kept the game tight. Multiple shots came up close, including a near half ice blast from Matthew Rahilly that beat the opposing goalie only to strike the crossbar.

But as time ticked down in the third period, with overtime looming, the Bay Area Reps escaped, netting the go-ahead game-winning goal with exactly one minute remaining.

The bitter loss sent the Emeralds into Sunday’s consolation game against the Grosse Pointe South Blue Devils, who had a heartbreaker of their own, falling in overtime against the host Big Rapid Cardinals in overtime.

After a long night, and a lot of shots, Coach John Nutkins turned to some of his younger players to get key minutes, hoping for a spark. The Emeralds came out firing, and out-shot Grosse Pointe South 10-5 in the first period but found themselves trailing again. The Blue Devils built a 3-0 lead in a game that followed an eerily similar path to the season opener against Alpena.

Again, Austin Hinkson scored a powerplay goal after a string of penalties, and it seemed the comeback was on. The Emeralds won the shots-on-goal battle again in the second (12-9) but it was the efficiency from the opponent that did in the Emeralds.

Sophomore Jackson Goudreau, starting in place of Noble, tried to slow the attack but gave up four goals on the first 14 total shots, and when Noble came in, the Blue Devils continued firing with incredible success. They racked up six goals on just 23 total shots while the Emeralds remained stuck with one, despite finishing with a season-high 34 attempts.

Blake Walther had an assist on the Hinkson goal, as did Newberry freshman Levi Vruggink, who picked up his first career varsity point. The pair of losses drops the Emeralds to 0-3 on the season.

They now have two weeks to tune up before their next big showcase weekend, which will come December 8 and 9 when the team travels to Gaylord for games that Friday and Saturday.