By Ankur Kumar
(BRAMPTON, ON) – It was a three-game series that could’ve lasted a lifetime; a regular season finale, that saw a combined 15 goals, followed by a memorable three-game series, in just the second post-season meeting between the Brock Badgers and Windsor Lancers.
Brock Badgers assistant coach Garry Miotto’s comments, to Brock TV’s Justin Bregman, awoke the sleeping bear, that was dormant in game one. Miotto’s criticism about the quality of last season’s championship rings awoke the rabid beast waiting to be unleashed.
It was just what the Blue Collar Boys needed when they returned home last Saturday for their first playoff game of the season on South Windsor ice.
After spending the previous season with the Stockton Thunder, of the ECHL, the return of Ryan Green to this season’s Lancer roster made its impression. No one could be more ecstatic than the winger himself.
“It was tough to watch the Queen’s Cup last season,” Green said. “I wanted to have a nice silent transition back into the line-up with a great group of guys.”
Down 2-1 in the late going of the third period, last Saturday, Green’s second goal made a lot of noise. After Matt Beaudoin’s shorthanded tally, Green upped the Blue and Gold with the eventual game winner. It was followed by Spencer Pommells’, 43 seconds later, on the power play for the 4-2 series-tying win.
“We have been in the situation before and the past playoff experience helped us big time,” added Green. The chemistry between Pommells and Green is no surprise since both played together in their 2011-12 freshman season.
Reunited, and it feels so good.
Mixing Matt Beaudoin into the equation was exponential. Three points in game two, including a shorthanded goal, an assist on even strength play, and another on the man advantage, highlighted the former LaSalle Vipers’ character to fit into any scenario, seamlessly, when called upon.
“We needed goals and we had to put everything on net,” Beaudoin said. “When you’re down you have to do everything you can to win.”
The trio of Green, Pommells, and Beaudoin played together during the regular season. With the season on the line for two of the three graduating members, they boosted the team toward a game two victory.
It was the blue-liners, however, who kept the Lancers alive and well in game three.
Julian Luciani’s laser was his first of two big goals, that evening, on the 5-on-3, while Dan Tanel and Tyson Dallman watched helplessly from the penalty box. Scott Prier set up Chad Shepley in the third period for the point blank snipe past senior goaltender Adrien Volpe.
Tying the game as regulation wound down was an excitable sequence, but Spencer Turcotte reminded everyone that the relentless Badgers hadn’t disappeared. He scored 34 seconds after Shepley to retake the lead 3-2.
Luciani wasn’t done either, though.
His second goal of the night tied the score again and forced overtime. The net, in the Lancer zone behind him, was off its anchor as he rushed upwards toward Badger territory. But the Lancers had desperately maintained possession of the puck to keep the play continuing and legal.
“I didn’t know the net behind us was off,” explained the sophomore defender. “I saw the play break up and go the other way. On our part, we throw it on net and hope our forwards are in their faces.”
After 60 minutes of regulation, that’s where it stood. Game three. Overtime. The first seed versus the eighth seed. Next goal would win and that would be it. No more time would be available to respond with anything.
The only apt conclusion had to be that both teams went to the edge of their limits to earn the win.
Rookie Kyle Hope’s name hadn’t appeared frequently in the goals category in the final 16 games. But, it came up when it mattered most.
Hope didn’t expect to get the game-winning goal at 10:45 of the first overtime period, but what he demonstrated was that there is no such thing as a fluke goal in playoff hockey.
“Being down and to learn from that builds character,” he explained. “First year in the conference means it’s a different opportunity.”
Hope, formerly of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and Owen Sound Attack credited the seniors on the Lancers with providing the requisite example.
“The veteran leadership is outstanding,” Hope continued. “The confidence and composure has been passed down throughout the team.”
Kyle Hope’s series winner will be remembered as the perfect finish, to what felt like an undying division finals rather than an opening round, but Hope accredits the outcome elsewhere.
“Bussy [goaltender Parker Van Buskirk]pulled me aside and talked to me during that scoring drought, so it was great to do it for the older guys,” he said. “It’s not about the individual point. It’s about the team win.”
In the jubilant scene, Hope skated towards Van Buskirk to start celebrating what had been an arduous climb to emerge triumphant in the series.
“It’s always exciting when a guy scores and comes back to the goalie,” said Van Buskirk. “Maybe he didn’t have the year he expected, but all that talent paid off at the right time and he scored one of the biggest goals of the year.”
It’s hard to comprehend that it was just the second time in OUA history that the teams met in the playoffs. Four games in eight days, facing a single opponent, has bred a new rivalry after the unforgettable finishes to each team’s respective first round.
The Lakehead Thunderwolves are up next on Wednesday night. The Lancers swept the Thunderwolves in the OUA West Finals last season, outscoring them 13-3 in two games. The Lancers won the regular season series in Thunder Bay as well, following a 5-4 win with a 7-6 come-from-behind overtime victory.
The late game-winning goals were scored by Spencer Pommells on both nights, last October.
The Thunderwolves are one of the most cherished hockey teams in the entire CIS. Fort William Gardens is a haven for hockey fans and the record setting attendances they accumulate every year proves the fact.
It is the perfect venue to start game one of round two between a team that swept the nationally respected Western Mustangs and the reigning conference titleholders, who would not have reached the Queen’s Cup championship game last season without having gone through the Thunderwolves.
“A team like Lakehead is never easy. They’re a tough team and a tough crowd,” stated Van Buskirk, who knows, first hand, staving off the Wolves en route to his MVP performance in the championship game last season. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
“They beat an excellent Western team in two straight,” reiterated head coach Kevin Hamlin. “They’re relishing in the opportunity to play the number one seed. We’re going into a hornet’s nest.”
The Wolves have a 40% success rate on the power play during the OUA West playoffs, but the Lancers have yet to be scored upon shorthanded.
Mike Hammond of the Thunderwolves is coming off one of the best performances in the playoffs so far after scoring a hat trick in game two against the Mustangs.
The Thunderwolves survived the second place Mustangs and, although the Wolves were ranked seventh heading into the OUA West playoffs, the number proved far luckier for them.
The ice will be full of blue and gold but it’s the type of series that will turn both teams black and blue. That’s the level of work it will take to win this series.