TIE-BREAKER: Kootenay (WHL) 7, Owen Sound (OHL) 3,
Two nights ago, the Kootenay Ice were an overtime goal away from being the first team eliminated from the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup. Tonight, the Ice knocked out the Owen Sound Attack with a comeback 7-3 win in the tie-breaker game at Hershey Centre and advanced to tomorrow’s semi-final against host Mississauga St. Michael’s.
Kootenay’s overtime hero from Tuesday, Matt Fraser, scored twice on the power play and added an assist as the Ice stormed back from a 2-0 first period deficit, blitzing Owen Sound with six straight goals over the next two periods. Fraser’s first marker of the night gave Kootenay the lead for good and, with Tomas Jurco of Saint John, now co-leads all players with four goals. Kootenay also scored twice on the penalty kill and no shorthanded goal was bigger than Joe Antilla’s in the second period that turned the tide of the game.
“We just try to take it one game at a time. We came into this tournament knowing we had to climb a ladder to get to the finals and we feel that we’ve gotten better as the tournament’s progressed,” said Fraser, noting that Kootenay got their confidence back by putting the puck in the net. “We didn’t score very many (goals) in the first two games and if you’re going to win this tournament, you’ve got to score goals.”
It was sweet revenge for Kootenay who were shut out 5-0 in the round-robin by Owen Sound and many Attack followers were left wondering why head coach Mark Reeds elected to name Scott Stajcer as his starting netminder after Jordan Binnington looked strong against the Ice in the opening game. Stajcer’s last game was May 10 in the OHL Finals against Mississauga, sixteen days ago.
Although Owen Sound was without top forwards Joey Hishon and captain Garrett Wilson due to concussions, the Attack scored the game-opening goal at 7:12 of the first period when Cameron Brace buried the rebound of a Mike Halmo shot. Defenceman Jesse Blacker then scored a late goal with 1:15 left when his shot hit the post and the puck fell into the crease behind Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen. Jarrod Maidens flicked it into the net to give the Attack a 2-0 lead at first intermission. Kootenay was unable to take advantage of 1:27 of a 5-on-3 power play in the opening frame. Kootenay’s best chance came when Max Reinhart, standing at the goal line, appeared to have an open net to shoot at but he fired the puck through the crease behind the Attack goalie.
The second frame was decidedly different as Kootenay scored three times in three different strength situations. Their first goal came at 7:48 when Antilla’s shot rebounded to Erik Benoit standing at the edge of the crease. Benoit kicked the puck to his stick and directed it into the goal to cut Owen Sound’s lead in half.
“The big turning point was “Benny” (Benoit) getting the goal there,” said Fraser, spreading credit to his teammate. “He made a great play to kick it up to his stick and he really got the ball rolling for us. It’s players like them, the depth players, that get pucks in the net that can get momentum for us.”
Momentum swung sharply towards the Ice in the next 13 seconds. After Kootenay forward Brendan Hurley was called for hooking four seconds after the next faceoff, Cody Eakin rushed up ice on the penalty kill. He made a perfect pass to Antilla who fired a high shot over Stajcer for a game-tying shorthanded goal at 8:01.
“There was a little bit of an inspirational speech,” Antilla said, smiling as he recalled what was said in the dressing room between the first and second periods. “A couple of things were thrown, but that’s normal – it gets the guys fired up and we responded well. It was no Miracle on Ice [speech], but it got the job done,” joked Antilla.
“I think our team rallied around that when you tie a game up after being down 2-0,” he continued, referring to his shorthanded goal. “Our team knows we can beat anyone if we put our minds to it. Everyone just continued to keep the ball rolling and we managed to score even more goals – on the power play, on the penalty-kill and all over the place, so it was good for our team.”
Three minutes later, the Ice took the lead on the power play when Fraser wristed a shot from the near faceoff dot past Stajcer for a third straight Ice goal in less than four minutes.
In the third period, Kootenay duplicated their second period feat of three goals in three different ways by scoring another trio - on the power play, even-strength and shorthanded – also in less than four minutes. Fraser scored his second power play goal by tapping in a loose puck at the side of the crease at 1:13 to make it 4-2 for the Ice. Two minutes later, Cody Eakin ripped a shot through the five-hole and then at 4:59, Reinhart slapped a backbreaking shorthanded shot past Stajcer from the slot, ending the stunned goaltender’s night after 6 goals on 31 shots.
“The start was pretty good. We came out in the first period really strong but obviously, it was a tough loss,” Stajcer started, looking bleary-eyed. “We had to play the whole game and we didn’t. The boys played good but I let in six goals in the tie-breaker game and I take the blame for this loss.”
Stajcer found out this morning that he was starting. “Coach called me into his office and just said, ‘You’re in.’ so I just had to prepare myself the best I could and did my best,” adding that he “was surprised, considering how great ‘Binner’ (Binnington) was playing. But when he told me [I was starting], you just have to get your mind straight, focus on the game and not think about why I’m in.”
He acknowledged that the absence of Hishon and Wilson hampered Owen Sound’s offence tonight. “Those guys are big parts of our team. Hishon and Wilson, they’re both great players. They’re going to have great careers.”
Binnington stepped in and made 3 saves on 3 shots in 15 minutes and said he found out at the pre-game meal that he would not be starting. “I was a little bit surprised but I knew that [Reeds] was going to switch something up because we lost two in a row. Sometimes you just have to use that to spark the team.”
“He’s made a whole bunch of great decisions throughout this whole season. I have so much respect for him. He’s the best coach I’ve had as a player,” Binnington added, saying Stajcer “played tremendously well and made some big saves for us. We just ran out of gas.”
After the game, Reeds reviewed his goaltending decision. “After the fact, you can look at it any way you want but I thought on the first two goals, Stajcer didn’t have much of a chance. On the third goal, obviously he would want that one back and a couple of the other ones were pretty good shots.”
“In retrospect, you can say what you will but the important thing was putting a goaltender in there so my players could focus early in the game and be prepared to play. I thought that was the response we received from using Scott and obviously it didn’t turn out the way I would have liked.”
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch