BURTON — Max McIllmurray’s favorite position in hockey is the one which gets him the most ice time.
So, with limited playing time as a forward for Hartland, he eagerly embraced the opportunity to move back to defense when the Eagles needed help on the blue line.
Never mind the fact that he’s never played there in his life.
“It took a few games for me to get used to it, but I developed pretty quickly, quicker than I thought I would,” McIllmurray said after scoring two goals in Hartland’s 9-1 victory over Flint Powers Catholic on Wednesday at Crystal Fieldhouse.
“I think I’ll be a better defenseman than I was a forward.”
McIllmurray had only one goal in 20 games before Wednesday, that coming while playing forward at Houghton on Dec. 2. He switched to defense midway through the season.
“I got what I deserved as a forward,” he said. “Kids were working harder than me. I was where I should’ve been. Now that I’m on defense, everything switched. I’m on the ice almost every other shift. I’m getting more chances, I’m getting more ice time. It’s perfect. I love it.”
After registering only one goal and two assists in his first 17 games, McIllmurray has two goals and three assists in the last four.
He displayed some of the skills he developed as a forward, skating into the zone and burying a high shot from the right circle for his first goal and going to the net to knock in the rebound of a Jake Behnke shot for his second.
Hartland coach Rick Gadwa thought that McIllmurray’s tall, rangy body would make him a good fit on defense.
“We moved him back there when we were having trouble back there,” Gadwa said. “He’s really settled in and he’s getting better every game. To score the two tonight shows his offensive ability. He’s been really good for us back there.”
McIllmurray is a junior who is playing his first year of high school hockey. He played for the Honeybaked under-15 AAA team last season.
“Really, it was coach Rick,” McIllmurray said in explaining why he chose to play for his school. “And being able to play in front of the school, playing for the school, wearing my school’s jersey, my hometown’s jersey. It was hard to pass up.”
After a scoreless first period, Hartland exploded for five goals in a 6-minute, 20-second stretch of the second period.
Brenden Tulpa scored at 1:39 of the second, Grant Briggs at 2:21, McIllmurray at 7:08, Gabe Anderson at 7:18 and Tulpa at 7:59.
Joey Larson made it 6-0 at 4:36 of the third before Powers got its only goal on a shorthanded breakaway by Christian Wentworth at 8:22. McIllmurray got his second goal at 9:32, Larson scored his second goal at 13:25 and defenseman Grant Pietila ended the game via the mercy rule with 1:20 remaining on a shot from the right point.
Despite the blowout, there were two turning points that could’ve altered the complexion of the game. Hartland killed a five-minute major for boarding assessed to Josh Albring in the first period and goalie Brett Tome stopped a breakaway by Keigan Wildfong when the score was 2-0.
Hartland (16-4-1), ranked No. 4 in Division 2, has won seven straight games, including five on the road against state-ranked opponents. Powers (15-5-2) is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, but will drop after losing for the third straight time.
“Hartland’s deep, they’re fast, they’re skilled,” Powers coach Travis Perry said. “Rick’s done a great job. They’ve got a good team. I definitely expect them to be at least in the final four, probably the finals.”
Tome made 22 saves for the Eagles, who will face archrival Brighton for the second time in 10 days at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Kensington Valley Ice House.
Howell 4, Milford 1
HARTLAND — Graham Hassan had two goals and one assist, as Howell (9-12) won its fourth straight game.
Dominic D’Angelo and Brent Wolf scored the other goals for Howell. Ethan Ryan made 17 saves for the Highlanders.