(WINDSOR, ON) – The Niagara Thunderhawks carry the hammer in their Western Conference semi-final against the hometown Windsor Clippers. In local Junior B lacrosse action, the Thunderhawks took the opening game of their best-of-five series, 8-6 in front of a large, partisan Windsor crowd, Saturday night.
The Thunderhawks were led by a standout goaltending performance by late acquisition David Herkimer. Herkimer, who started the season with the St Catharines Spartans and was lit up in his only regular season match against the Clippers, made countless show-stopping saves in the second and third to keep a steady barrage of Windsor snipers from drawing this game even.
“Their tender played well,” said Clipper coach Jerry Kavanaugh after the game. “We made it easy for him on too many shots, either shooting at his shoulders instead of outside his feet or trying to squeeze shots in on the short side instead of making the strong move around him.”
Herkimer, Kyle Pedwell, and Chris Robertson were just swept in the opening round by the Six Nations Rebels as members of the St Catharines Spartans. Due to a loophole in the league regulations on finalizing rosters, the Spartans released these players and they were automatically signed by the Thunderhawks before the July 2 deadline.
It begs the question, if a team can add players from other teams mid-playoff, why bother with a roster deadline at all?
Niagara struck first, only two minutes in, with a blast from James Stenzel. He was answered just minutes later when Dylan Riley and Patrick Kaschalk snapped the mesh behind Herkimer, just a minute apart to give the Clippers an early lead.
The advantage was short lived though, as Zach Luis found space behind Windsor goalie Brayden Bell with 12 minutes remaining in the frame. Four minutes later, Aidan Buis snapped home an unassisted marker to give the Thunderhawks the 1-up, but Riley responded with 6 minutes to go to knot the game back up.
In the middle act, it was the Clippers’ turn to get the ball rolling first, when Josh Jubenville sniped a shot past Herkimer to retake the lead.
The Clips would not lead again.
From 4:08 until 9:35 into the second frame, everything would line up for the ‘Hawks. Pedwell, Hunter Lemieux, and Luis would all lance the home net in this time frame, giving Niagara some much needed breathing room on Windsor.
Chase Kavanaugh would bring the Clippers back within one with 5 minutes to go, but Pedwell notched his second of the game, late in the period to bring a 7-5 lead into the break.
Throughout the second and third, Windsor laid steady pressure on the Thunderhawks’ net, but Herkimer was stingy. Niagara was able to break through the home team’s offense again, just under five minutes into the final stanza, when Lemieux slammed in a magnificent behind-the-back shot to go up by three.
Things then got ugly.
At the midway point of the period, Windsor’s Noah Bushnell landed a wicked shot to the head of a Niagara runner. Ben Austin took exception to the blow and confronted Bushnell by the penalty box.
A solid tilt ensued, as both players chucked knuckles with urgency. Sadly, it ended with another nasty note when, as they tumbled to floor, Austin’s head was bounced off the cement.
Both players were ejected with a pair of major penalties each. Austin was assessed by his team’s medical personnel and was visibly shaken after the scrap.
The Clippers kept getting their chances, but could not cash in. Ryan Marchand added a late one, but it was not enough to get over the hump.
“[I] thought we played pretty well,” said coach Kavanaugh afterwards. “We put up 57 shots on goal, just didn’t finish. The Niagara [defense] is big and tough, but I thought we did a good job of getting quality chances. [We] just have to bear down and put the ball in the net.”
Herkimer faced quite the task in net against the high flying Clippers. Including a 22-shot second period, the former Spartans tender was good for 51 saves on the night.
Bell stopped 31 of 39 in the Windsor net.
The series continues Tuesday night in Niagara-On-The-Lake at the MCU Arena, as the Clippers look to draw the series at one. Game time is 8:00pm.
“[There is] no panic in the room,” stated Kavanaugh. “We go there Tuesday and get a win, reclaim home floor and we’ll be good.”