(WINDSOR, ON) – In front of a boisterous crowd of over six hundred lacrosse enthusiasts, the Windsor Clippers Junior B team dispatched the Niagara Thunderhawks 9-8 in the fifth game of their OJBLL conference semi-final.
On the back of a four-goal night from Ryan Marchand, and a seven assist night by playmaker Logan Holmes, the Clippers were able to batten down the hatches for the final fifteen minutes and rely on the defensive prowess of the team’s backend and ball-stopper, Brayden Bell, to lock down the 3-2 series win.
“It was the most intense game we’ve played all year,” said Marchand during the post-game festivities. “We came out strong in the first, they battled back in the second, and our D just held them down in the third.”
This veteran offensive threat was not blind to the gravity of the situation. Marchand lead his team in goals, including the eventual winner.
“Our backs were against the wall. I am a 21 year-old. This could be my last game,” he said. “I just came out as hard as I could. Just gave it all; anything I had.”
The Clippers, who were shutdown offensively during their 8-4 loss in Niagara-On-The-Lake last Sunday, hammered Hawks goalie David Herkimer early and built up a considerable first period lead.
Only 37 seconds into the first, Marchand cracked the twine to score the early edge. Less than two minutes later, Marchand was at it again, walking in on Herkimer and lighting the lamp.
Five minutes in, Patrick Kaschalk pushed the lead to three with a snipe of his own.
Midway through the frame, Niagara’s John Wagner hit Bell’s net with an unassisted breakaway blast, to be answered on the next play when Marchand snapped the mesh again for the hat-trick. Wallace extended the lead soon after, before Hunter Lemieux made the score sheet for the Thunderhawks.
With only 24 seconds remaining, defensive specialist Phil Ristoski netted his first ever Junior B goal to slow Niagara’s momentum and give the Clippers a 6-2 first period lead going into the break.
The Hawks came off the blocks quickly in the second when Isaac Vanderzalm eluded everyone, including the Windsor tender, only 7 seconds into the frame, scoring on a fast break from the opening faceoff. Four minutes later, Kaschalk replied for the Clippers.
Niagara’s Zach Luis found space behind the Windsor defense nine minutes in, but Andrew Garant would have none of that, answering at the middle of the frame.
Things became a little scary in the second half of the middle stanza.
Penalty trouble, in a chippy game where the officials mostly allowed the two teams to play their own game, became a bit of an issue for Windsor.
Chris Robertson and John Wagner were able to find open net for the Thunderhawks on the advantage, and Niagara began to mount a comeback. Lemieux brought the Hawks back within one on a buzzer beater, with the goalie pulled, to end the period.
Niagara suddenly had all the momentum.
The Thunderhawks returned for the third with a bounce in their step, but there was no panic in the Clippers. Windsor seemed to be in trouble after an early power play was awarded to the road team, but Bell and the defense repelled the Niagara charge.
Four and a half minutes in, Marchand blasted another laser past Herkimer for his fourth of the game and a two goal lead. The ‘Hawks did not sit idle, as Lemieux snapped one in a minute later.
The Hawks pressured for more, but the Windsor defense stood tall for the final fourteen minutes of play. At the buzzer, the Clippers stormed their goalie to celebrate their first trip to the Western final since 2007, when the team was known as the Fratmen.
Bell made 33 saves to pick up his sixth win of the playoffs, while Herkimer made one less at the other end.
Marchand aptly described how it felt when the final buzzer sounded with one word, “Unreal.”
“We got a great start and Marchand was on fire early,” said Clipper coach Jerry Kavanaugh.
He described the game as intense, but knew that despite his team’s early scoring run, that something would have to give.
“We knew they would push back,” he said. “We need to clean up the second period breakdowns.”
After Game 4, Windsor’s coach predicted the amount of offense needed to upend Niagara in the final chapter of the series. And, he was not far off.
“[I] figured we would need ten to win, but nine got it done,” Kavanaugh said. “Both defenses and goalies locked it down in the third. We had a few good chances, but [David Herkimer] kept making saves. [Brayden Bell] made some great stops late and they hit a couple posts. Total team effort. Guys really dug deep and won battles.”
The Clippers will travel to Orangeville on tonight for the opening game of the final. Game 2 will be in Windsor on Tuesday at the Glade; slated for 8:00pm.
“Orangeville is a really good team with a great tender,” said Kavanaugh.
He does not think the series will be as physical of an affair as the Niagara or Elora match-ups, but added that his offense will have to focus on consistency and controlling possession.
“They don’t score a ton. They are comfortable in low scoring games,” Kavanaugh disclosed. “If we can get our offense going, it should force them to open it up. Should be a great series.”
Western Conference final schedule
- Game 1 – Friday July 22 – Windsor @ Orangeville – 8:00pm
- Game 2 – Tuesday July 26 – Orangeville @ Windsor – 8:00pm
- Game 3 – Thursday July 28 – Windsor @ Orangeville – 8:00pm
- Game 4 – Sunday July 31 – Orangeville @ Windsor – 7:00pm
- Game 5 – Tuesday August 2 – Windsor @ Orangeville – 8:00pm