(HAMILTON, ON) – The Windsor Clippers are catching fire. A road weekend sweep of the Hamilton Bengals and Niagara Thunderhawks have pushed the Clippers to a 5-2 record and a game behind of the Wallaceburg Red Devils in the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League.
A big part of these wins has been the play of Windsor goalie Carson Hebner.
On Sunday, despite being down 6-2 to the Bengals in the second period, clutch goaltending from Hebner and a massive scoring outburst from tough guy Noah Bushnell forced overtime and the eventual win for the Clippers.
Trevor Barrett scored early for Hamilton, briefly setting the Clippers back on their heels. Five minutes later, Windsor’s Jake Rosa bent the twine behind Bengals’ goalie Dylan Sprentz. Chase Kavanaugh gave the Clippers their first lead three minutes after, but was responded to with a pair of quick tallies from Luke Robinson and Dawson Brown.
The Bengals kept up the pressure in the middle act with three more unanswered goals, this time from Cooper Day-Allison, Ty Argent, and Robinson again. Late in the frame, former OHLer and last year’s Chatham Maroons captain, Noah Bushnell twice ripped the mesh for Windsor to bring them roaring back to within two going into the third.
The Clippers veteran was not done, however.
Just under two minutes into the third, Bushnell belted a pass to Rosa who fired a shot past Sprentz to draw within one. Just past the midway point, Bushnell knotted the game at 6, picking up the hat-trick. Hebner then locked down the goal crease, snatching up the shutout period to force overtime.
In the extra frame, Hebner did not relent and would not be beaten again.
League-leading goal-scorer Brayden Mayea took over in the offensive zone by blasting an overtime natural hat-trick with Bushnell and Rosa piling on for good measure.
“[We] started pretty even, chances both ways, both defences were physical, both goalies solid,” said Clippers head coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “We got burned by a couple speed guys and gave up two fluky goals to go down 6-2.”
In the third, the, “defence and Hebner were awesome. Shutout period, offence tied it at 6. [In] overtime we won 5-0 to cap a 9-0 run. Thirty-three minutes of shutout [lacrosse].”
Hebner was stellar in net, blocking 36 of 42 chances and two shutout periods to improve his season record to 3-2. Sprentz made 28 saves in the loss for Hamilton.
“Each of our wins, so far, have been must-win games in our eyes,” said Hebner. “It’s satisfying to see that we’re capitalizing in the earlier games knowing that every two points are crucial by the end of the season. Our game in Hamilton, on Sunday, was a huge gut-check for us and I’m excited to use that momentum as the midway point of the season gets closer.”
Hebner has stepped out as an unlikely starting goalie. Sitting among league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage, he doesn’t have the prototypical stature of a Clippers goalie. With 6’ 4” Joel Evans starting last year, and 6’ 2” Brayden Bell the year before, it is a little shocking to see a 5’ 10”, 175 lbs goalie come out of the woodwork and succeed at such a level.
For Hebner it’s all about making every shot, game, or practice count.
“Treating each warmup drill as a game situation helps me transition from simple shooting drills to in-game play, because simply being a target for warmups and actually going through the motions in my crease beforehand has a huge impact on how I backstop our defence in the opening period,” he said. “Being in my second year of junior now, I feel a lot more confident and willing to use speed and positioning to my advantage rather than trying too hard to play a style that doesn’t work with my short height.”
In addition to the strong goaltending, Bushnell’s four goals and four assists on Sunday seemed to come out of nowhere in a season where he is near the league lead in penalty minutes and majors.
“Bushy was dominant,” Kavanaugh said, getting right to the point. After six games, Bushnell’s 27 points have him on pace for a career-best season in his fourth and final year as a junior.
The night before, the Clippers built up an early lead while visiting the Niagara Thunderhawks and, despite a late surge from the home team, were able to walk away with an 8-5 win. Andrew Clark, Mayea, and Rosa each had two goals, while stellar midget call-up Connor McManus and captain James Morgan each tallied once.
Niagara answered with two goals from Kent Baker-Printup and singles by Aidan Buis, Chris Weier, and Matt Mines.
“We had to switch floors about five minutes in; too slippery,” explained Kavanaugh. “[After] about a 10-minute delay getting the nets moved over, we played pretty well. Defence kept them to perimeter shots and offence did a lot of good things except put the ball in the net. We controlled most of the game, score should have been higher, just didn’t finish around the net.”
Hebner picked up the victory after stopping 34 while Keelan Buis was peppered with 52 chances, for the home squad.
The Clippers are next in action tonight when they host the Point Edward Pacers at 8pm at Forest Glade Arena.