There were moments of tentative play, moments of passivity.
But when it mattered most -- with the game on the line in the third period -- the Palmer hockey team turned on the intensity and passion.
Trailing by a goal to start the third, Palmer scored three unanswered goals to notch a 5-3 nonconference victory over Houston on Saturday night at Palmer Ice Arena.
Michael Hanson scored three goals, while Zack Richards and Andrew Ferguson also tallied as Palmer finished the regular season 16-5-1 -- its best season in a decade.
Both teams were playing with depleted rosters -- the Moose started the season with three solid lines, but were down to just 14 players on Saturday.
Houston started the year with 13 skaters; the Hawks were down to 10 at one point this season but suited 12 on Saturday.
That might have explained the slow pace to start the game. Or it could have been that both teams were coming off emotional games Friday -- a physical 4-2 win over Colony for Palmer; a 3-2 loss in overtime to Wasilla for Houston.
But Palmer turned it on right from the start of the third period, with Hanson scoring on a power play left over from the second period to tie the game 3-3.
Hanson then scored two minutes later, benefiting from Zack Richards' nifty skating with the puck. Richards skated up ice, maneuvering past Houston defenders before feeding a wide-open Hanson at the Hawks' blue line. Hanson marched in and snapped a shot that bounced in off the post for the game winner.
Ferguson scored on a big blue-line slap shot in the third for Palmer.
Dillon Styers scored all three goals for Houston, which lost its sixth straight game. The Hawks of the Mid-Alaska Conference fell to 6-13. Houston finishes its regular season with a crucial four-game road trip in Fairbanks next week that will decide whether it makes the state tournament.
Palmer controlled the first period early, but Houston was in command late. Freshman Micah Ranum stole the puck at the Palmer blue line, deked past a defender, then streaked in on Palmer goalie Sam McQuillin, but McQuillin made a pad save.
In the final two minutes, however, Houston applied more pressure, and Ranum contributed to Houston's first goal, feeding Styers from behind the net. Styers' one-timer with 12 seconds left gave Houston a 1-0 lead.
Houston kept that one-goal lead after a wild second period that ended 3-2.
Hanson tied it for Palmer when he scored just seconds after a Moose power play ended. Then, 35 seconds later, Richards streaked in, stick handled past a defender and beat Houston goalie Will Rauchenstein with a wrist shot over the left shoulder for a 2-1 advantage.
But Houston seized the lead back with two more goals from Styers -- a chip shot in front of the net over McQuillin's shoulder; a wrister in front of the net after taking Ranum's short pass from the corner.
Daily News sports reporter Ron Wilmot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-907-352-6712.
By RON WILMOT