The OHL’s Eastern Conference finals, which is being contested between the Niagara IceDogs and the Ottawa 67’s, have had everything a playoff series between two high-calibre teams should have. There has been stellar goaltending, bad blood (such as the kick to the head of Tom Kühnhackl by Marc Zanetti that got the Ottawa overage captain suspended for the remainder of the playoffs), and offensive contributions from several sources on both teams. In Game 3 on April 23rd, which was held at the J. Benson Cartage Centre in Ottawa, the IceDogs won 5-2, with their goals coming from Mitchell Theoret with two, and singles to Dougie Hamilton, Andrew Agozzino and… Mark Visentin.
Visentin’s goal, of course, was not the first by an OHL goalie, and I further recognize that goalies being credited with goals in hockey is not that unusual. There have been several who have accomplished the feat over the years in all levels and leagues. In fact, two other goalies were credited with scoring goals this season; Norwegian puckstopper Chris-Henrik Nygård of Stjernen Hockey II scored an empty-net goal against Grüner on September 30, 2011, and Carolina Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward was credited with his tally after the New Jersey Devils scored on their own empty cage on December 26, 2011.
It is just the fact that Visentin, who still will not turn 20 until August, has seemed to have done everything in his major junior career that it was remarkable to think that there was something that he had yet to accomplish.
In Game 2 of the series on April 22nd, after recording a 41-save performance in a 2-1 overtime win, Visentin had a rather uncharacteristic night in front of his home crowd. The 67’s, who wanted to win for their suspended captain, fired everything but the kitchen sink at the IceDogs goaltender, and he allowed four goals on 12 shots in less than seven minutes in the first period. Niagara battled back, getting within one by 4:09 of the second period when Dougie Hamilton made the score 4-3. Michael Cazzola answered for Ottawa a minute after that to make it 5-3 and, 6:29 later, Sean Monahan scored to make the score 6-3. Visentin was pulled in favour of Chris Festarini and the 67’s emerged winning 7-4.
Game 3 was in Ottawa the next night and Visentin set out to steal this game from the 67’s just like they did the night before in St. Catharines. Everything started out fine for him, allowing only one goal on 15 Ottawa shots in the first period. The goal that he did allow, however, which was scored by Tyler Graovac, did not help his cause. Graovac beat Visentin with a long shot that beat him high blocker side. Only 20 seconds into the second period, Mitchell Theoret capitalized on a rebound let out by Michael Nishi, who was named the starter after Petr Mrázek came down with the flu. Things started getting worse for Visentin less than four minutes later on an IceDogs powerplay. Trying to pass the puck up to one of his teammates (either David Pacan, Brock Beukeboom or Jesse Graham), it was picked off by Dalton Smith at the inside blueline and wired into a gaping cage that Visentin had vacated. Happily, his gaffe was saved by a tying goal at 13:24 of the third period off the stick of Dougie Hamilton.
Things started off great for Visentin and the IceDogs in the third period. Theoret scored his second goal of the game only 13 seconds into the final stanza and, 86 seconds later, Niagara captain Andrew Agozzino made the score 4-2. Ottawa did everything they could to just solve the IceDogs’ defence. They were stingy in front of their superstar goalie, limiting the 67’s to only four shots in that period.
With 2:29 left in regulation, the IceDogs found themselves shorthanded after Ryan Strome took a hooking penalty. Ottawa pulled Nishi in an effort to try to get two quick goals to tie the game and force overtime. The IceDogs had killed off nearly the whole penalty and nine seconds remained for Strome to serve. 38 seconds were all that remained in regulation and Visentin had the puck behind his net.
I suppose all I have left to say is this: Ed Hand, take it away….