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Penalties cost the Oilers as they fall to Big Rapids WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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The Mt. Pleasant High School hockey team's recent struggles continued on Wednesday as visiting Big Rapids scored consecutive late goals to stifle an Oiler comeback, winning by a final score of 4-1.

“I thought when we were being physical we did pretty well against them,” remarked Mt. Pleasant head coach Mike Willett after the game. “They are a fast team and a talented team. If you aren't physical and in position they are going to exploit that and you saw that a few times tonight.”

After an impressive 11-1 start to the campaign the Oilers have now failed to record a victory in five-straight contests. Their only point in that span came in a 4-4 tie with the FNV Griffins on January 24th as the Mt. Pleasant now sits at 11-5-1 on the season.

“We're getting closer,” said Willet about the recent funk. “Little things fall apart and then big things start to fall apart, so we've been tightening down the little things, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight. We were more physical and we were tighter in our defensive end. Obviously the penalties bit us, but we are getting closer.”

As Willett alluded to, while Mt. Pleasant may have gotten more of the little things right than it has of late, it was all for naught as it was killed by penalties against the Cardinals. The Oilers drew two power-play opportunities in the first period and another at the beginning of the second, but failed to score on all three as the score remained knotted at 0-0.

“We saw some zone entry stuff that we had some problems with at times,” said Willett on his team's struggles on the power play. “We have a couple new power play units here and they're getting a little happy and trying to get quick with it instead of settling down and letting the play find them. But we'll figure that out real quick once they get a little more comfortable with each other I think.”

The third failed chance was particularly taxing on Mt. Pleasant as immediately after going back to full strength Garret Garner scored for the visitors to put Big Rapids up 1-0 with 13:29 to go in the second.

Conceding so quickly after the power play seemed to deflate the Oilers, and while they may have only lost their edge for a minute, that was all the Cardinals needed. Less than 90 seconds after the goal, Kaleb Ramon was called for hooking and 19 seconds after that Garner scored his second as Mt. Pleasant suddenly found itself down 2-0 midway through the period.

“Sometimes what happens is you get one against you and then have a mental lapse,” said Willett. “We're usually pretty good about that, but tonight, obviously, it bit us.”

To its credit, Mt. Pleasant settled down after the two-goal binge. Though it was hit with three more penalties in the period, it was much better on the penalty kill, preventing the Cardinals from scoring another goal despite being outshot 16-5.

With just over five minutes to play in the period, it looked like Mt. Pleasant would even find a goal of its own as Max Trucks came open on a breakaway. His shot however, while beating the opposing goaltender, ricocheted unmercifully off the post, keeping the Cardinals advantage at 2-0 heading into the final period.

In the third, Mt. Pleasant, again, seemed destined to play its way back into the game as Big Rapids was hit with a whopping five penalties in the period. The Oilers though, were unable to take full advantage as they picked up three of their own, negating the majority of two different opportunities to go up a man.

They did however, manage to get a short chance at a five-on-three with six minutes left and finally capitalized as Zach Heeke set up Collin Lambert who scored to bring the Mt. Pleasant within a goal.

Now squarely back in the game, the Oilers pressed forward and, with less than three minutes left, they got the clear-cut opportunity they needed as Kyle Trucks found himself alone on a breakaway. He was however, unable to connect as the score remained 2-1.

That was as close as Mt. Pleasant would get as Evan Monko and Alex Jones scored two goals in the next minute for Big Rapids to seal the Oilers fate.

“The flood gates kind of opened up there at the end,” said Willett. “Things started moving a little too quickly for us at times, and on the bench we need to be a little more disciplined and pay attention and not let the penalties get to us – that's the biggest thing. It's one thing to take a penalty, it's another thing to get worked up about the penalty. We have to realize that penalties are going to be called and sometimes they are going to go for us and sometimes they're not, but that's something we need to react to in a positive way and not a negative way.

The Oilers will try to get back on the winning track on Saturday when they travel to Midland to face off against the Tri-Valley Titans. Game time is slated for 6:45 p.m.

Last Updated: 2/5/2015 12:18:03 PM EST