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Undermined by indiscipline: Oilers unable to stay out of the box, settle for tournament runner ups WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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After killing 10 of their 11 shorthanded opportunities in the Oiler Invite this weekend – taking their kill rate to over 90-percent for the season – the Mt. Pleasant hockey team proved that it's penalty kill is as good as anyone's, right now, in the state of Michigan. That's the good news.

The bad? All those shorthanded opportunities come at a cost.

“By the end of the game, the players that we used on the penalty kill are dead-dog tired and their energy level isn't there,” remarked Oiler head coach Michael Willett, whose team spent a whopping 59 minutes in the box over just two games in the Invite. “In addition, we have a lot of guys that don't get time on the penalty kill so, now, they're jumping in a few minutes later than usual and things get out of sync.”

An inspired effort from the hosts in their 4-1 tournament opening win over West Bloomfield on Friday allowed the Oilers to overcome their penalty woes with relative ease. In Saturday's matchup, however, Mt. Pleasant was not so lucky as a disjointed and lackluster first two periods put them in a hole from which they were unable to recover as they fell to L'Anse Creuse North in the tournament-championship game, 2-1.

“L'Anse Creuse is fast and physical and they outworked us for the first two periods,” Willett remarked, frankly. “Yesterday, we came with a little bit of an edge and we outworked West Bloomfield for three periods. For me, that was the difference. It's an opponent that is strong and one that we decided not to play hockey against for two periods and that hurt us.”

The championship game was in stark contrast to Mt. Pleasant's semifinal effort as, buoyed by an opening minute goal from Max Trucks, the Oilers (4-1) controlled the game from outset. Though the Lakers would even the score midway through the first period, a dominant spell on the penalty kill would allow Mt. Pleasant to keep the momentum and surge back ahead as Alex Dickinson broke the tie midway through the second and Trucks added two insurance goals to send the Oilers through to the title game.

Despite getting the win, extended time on the penalty kill against West Bloomfield seemed to take its toll against the Crusaders as Mt. Pleasant was unable to bring as much energy into the championship game.

In an incredibly physical – borderline dirty – battle, that energy was of dire importance. Instead of persevering like they had in the opener, the Oilers became agitated quickly and were unable to control the momentum as penalties, once again, mounted in droves. Though Mt. Pleasant did continue its penalty-kill brilliance, it was unable to generate consistent offensive rushes as lone goals in the first and second by the visitors put L'Anse Creuse up 2-0 heading into the final frame.

“In the first and second period, we were way too worried about stuff that didn't matter,” Willett said about the poor start. “Stuff that's out of our control – the way [L'Anse Cruese] was treating us, the way the refs were handling things – it doesn't matter. In the third period, we finally decided to play our style and all of a sudden, we won the third period. If we play that way the whole time, I think we win the game.”

As Willett alluded, Mt. Pleasat was finally able to pull itself out of its funk in the third as it controlled the run of play. But though Isaac Angera gave the Oilers a shot at the comeback with a goal in the tenth minute, they were unable to find the equalizer on a series of above average chances as L'Anse Creuse held on for the title.

“We talk a lot about penalties,” Willett said about his team's inability to keep five players on the ice in either game. “But, obviously, we need to talk a more about it because we aren't disciplined enough. You can't score goals when you're killing all the time and that's what we were doing. But hey, at least we know we can kill penalties.”

Though he was disappointed with his team's discipline, Willett was able to take solace in the fact that Mt. Pleasant was able to compete in both match-ups without the help of star senior Zach Heeke, who was forced to miss the Invite after getting stitches on his hand.

“Both last night and tonight we proved that we are not a one person team,” Willett said. “We already knew that I think, but it's good to see it. I go back to the third period. We were down one or two other players as well, and we still maintained control for most of the period. We are proving to ourselves that we had the depth that we thought we had and that's a good thing this early in the season. Obviously, you never want to lose Zach Heeke because he's a really talented player, but it's nice to see us do it without him and when he comes back, we'll be even stronger.”

Leading the way for the Oilers on the weekend was Max Trucks who recorded a hat trick in the opener. Angera also played well with an assist against West Bloomfield to go along with his goal in the title game as did Mitchell Haines, Logan Smith and Nodin Jackson who each recorded an assists against the Lakers. Goaltender Aaron Friedlein also played well, making 49 of a possible 52 saves over both contests.

Mt. Pleasant will look to bounce back from the loss on Wednesday when it goes on the road to take on Bay City Western in a non-conference fixture. The game is slated to start at 7 p.m.

Last Updated: 12/13/2015 6:55:44 PM EST