(ESSEX, ON) – It took overtime, but the Great Lakes Junior C final was forced to a Game 7 through the overtime heroics of Amherstburg’s James Brooks. His goal late in the fourth frame propelled the Admirals and Essex 73’s into an the pivotal final game.
Essex, who badly out-shot the Admirals throughout the match, struggled to find mesh behind the stingy Connor Meyerink. The entire opening stanza was devoid of both scoring and penalties, as the two teams battled for a foothold.
Early in the 2nd period, Essex’s Riley Meyerink was given a holding infraction and Amherstburg capitalized. A power play goal by Dean Patterson, 3:20 into the frame, and an additional goal five minutes later by Travis Campbell, gave the Admirals a commanding 2-0 lead.
Essex would answer back, however, with a power play goal by Griffin McCarty, with less than a minute to go. The 73’s would also tie the game, just minutes into the third, by a goal from Max Viselli.
The Admirals’ Broden Meloche had an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt with seven minutes to go, but the game remained tied at 2 until the buzzer.
In extra time, Essex continued to tally shots, but Meyerink was up to the challenge, giving his team a chance to win. With under three minutes remaining on the clock, Essex’s Adam Gaiarin was assessed a tripping penalty and Amherstburg pounced on the opportunity.
Just 15 seconds into the power play, Brooks cashed in the winning goal, with assists going to Blaine Bechard and Curtis Prymack.
Meyerink made 43 saves through the winning cause, while the 73’s Matt Badour stopped 24 of 27 shots.
In Game 7, the Admirals led twice in the game, but they could not hold off the defending Schmalz Cup champions, losing the deciding game of the Great Lakes Junior C final, 5-4. For the fifth consecutive year, and twelfth time in fifteen seasons, the 73’s are the head of the class in the GLJCHL.
Before a capacity crowd of 1,540, the 73’s held off a fiery Admirals squad, who fought to the final buzzer in an attempt to force overtime again. Amherstburg, for the second year in a row, are league finalists to Essex.
The 73’s came into the game with guns blazing, but the Admirals’ Meyerink held the fort, allowing no goals on 14 attempts in the 1st period. The Admirals only managed 3 shots of their own in the frame, but still managed to get on the board.
At 12:11 Caleb Paquette potted a power play goal behind Badour.
Just over a minute into the second period, Griffin McCarty, son of former Red Wing Darren McCarty, evened the game at 1. Minutes later, Amherstburg retook the lead with a goal by Brooks, the Game 6 overtime hero.
Halfway through the period, Essex tied the game on a goal from Matthew Rosati, then took their first lead of the game after a marker from captain Matthew Hebert.
With 4:26 to go, Paquette levelled the score again, at 3 apiece. A pair of Amherstburg tripping penalties late in the period helped the 73’s to lock play down in the Admirals’ zone. With less than a minute to play, Hebert netted his second of the evening to retake the lead.
Only minutes into the final stanza, the 73’s extended their lead with a snipe from Eric Shaw. When Amherstburg should have been attempting to mount their comeback they, instead, racked up penalty minutes, inhibiting their chances at getting back into the game. Nonetheless, Brooks kept the Admirals in the game with his second marker of the match, just 6:46 into the third.
With their chances muddled by costly power plays soon after the Brooks goal, the 73’s had little trouble clogging up the neutral zone and keeping Amherstburg at bay.
In the final minute, the Admirals pushed hard to regain the offensive zone, but could not get the puck on net.
Badour made 22 saves for the win, while Meyerink stopped 30 of 35 shots for Amherstburg.
Badour, the 73’s back-up during the regular season, had only played 62 minutes in the playoffs leading up to the finals. Starter Trevor Wheaton was suspended four games by the OHA for an attempt to injure infraction in Game 3, thrusting Badour into the starter role. He was solid throughout the series, winning three of his four starts.
Essex’s victory marked their fifth league title in a row. Amherstburg, who led the series 2-1 at one point, was kept on their heels for much of the final four games.
The 73’s outshot the Admirals, by large margins, in the last five games of the series. Meyerink’s strong play throughout allowed the Admirals to reach the decisive Game 7.
Essex will now prepare for their defense of the Schmalz Cup. They are set to face the Dorchester Dolphins of the Southern Ontario Junior C League in the OHA quarter-final. Dates for this series have yet to be announced.