The Buccaneers were also hosting their annual Bucs Pride Game, donning purple jerseys for the contest with names of loved ones who have battled or are currently battling cancer on their uniforms. The matchup with the Panthers also served as a chance to win back some hardware, as the two programs have created a rivalry trophy for the "Battle of the Lakeshore".
Unfortunately for the Bucs, a three-goal second period by West Ottawa would be all the Panthers would need to retain the trophy and take a 5-2 road win.
The loss snaps a three-game winning streak for the Bucs, but a non-conference loss that provides a few correctable learning lessons could be just what the doctor ordered for a young squad.
"The second period is always hard in this building because it's always a really long (shift) change for us," said Grand Haven head coach Keegan Ferris. "We've talked a lot about being smarter with our shift changes and tonight, we just weren't very smart with our shift changes and it cost us a few times by putting us in some bad spots.
"We looked a little tired at times because we would spend so much energy on offense during that second period. We weren't staying aware of possible possession changes, so when we lose the puck on the attack, we have to still have that same energy to go back and play quality defense. We just got caught a little tired on defense during those last two minutes of the second period, our backcheck wasn't there to support enough and our defense had to scramble to get in position.
"We failed to identify a few things on the fly and West Ottawa took advantage. The good thing is that these games are all just practices for the playoffs. We'll chalk this up as a learning experience and hopefully, keep winning our conference games."
The first period would start slow, as neither team would generate many scoring chances on their way to a scoreless tie at the first intermission.
Just 32 seconds into the second period, West Ottawa would strike first, as the Panthers netted a short-handed goal to take a 1-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later, Grand Haven junior defensemen Nate Beers would hammer home a rebound shot from teammate Cooper Fox to tie the game at 1-1 and give the Buccaneers a much-needed shot of energy.
The Bucs would apply plenty of pressure on the forecheck and create a few quality scoring chances in the process, but the team began to run out of gas as the clock began to tick down on the second period.
West Ottawa took advantage, scoring back-to-back goals at the 1:53 and 1:20 mark of the period to establish a 3-1 lead heading into the third period of play.
After a few battles for possession in the neutral zone, the Panthers would add an insurance goal at the 14:25 mark to create what seemed like an insurmountable 4-1 lead.
Grand Haven senior Kyle Eveland would fight through contact on a drive to the net and score on an unassisted play to bring the Bucs within two goals at 4-2 with 13:30 still left to play.
That would be the only lamp lighting the Bucs would do the rest of the way, however, as the Panthers would hold serve on defense and add an empty-net goal in the closing seconds to retain their Battle of the Lakeshore trophy with a 5-2 road win.
The Grand Haven-Spring Lake co-op hockey team (9-9, 6-1 Fischer) gets a chance to rest their legs in time for a critical Feb. 2 road matchup with conference-leading Byron Center. The Bulldogs are 14-4 overall and 10-0 in the conference. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m.