For Kootenay, it was their second attempt at an elimination game all season and they passed, again, for the second time this week. For Owen Sound, it was indicative of their play all tournament. They got out in front 2-0 before undisciplined play and loss of composure really hammered at them.
The Ice won 7-3 with a late empty net goal to distort the result, but it was a clear case of one team coming to play like a championship team and the other not. Yes, you can make excuses for Owen Sound; they were sans Garrett Wilson and Joey Hishon, both out with concussions, both the team’s leading scorers. But head coach Mark Reeds also made the curious decision to start Scott Stajcer in place of Jordan Binnington Thursday night, and, while the goalie carousel of the Attack worked in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, Binnington played every game for the Attack this tournament and played well.
“Everyone will be asking questions,” said Reeds after the game. “I got the response I was looking for in the first period.” It’s not an entirely indefensible decision, and it’s not as if Stajcer was the sole reason Owen Sound lost this hockey game.
“We’re trying to play hockey,” said Andrew Shaw, who scored two goals and had seven points in the tournament for the Attack, but also 16 penalty minutes, including a slash to put the Attack down 5-on-3 at the end of the second period and a boarding penalty early in the third. “We play on the edge. We had a couple of bad calls here and there… we were just playing our game, they were just calling everything against us.”
It’s certainly a thought. Owen Sound skated a man down 16 times to nine over the past two games, but there were many stick infractions and retaliatory calls. Tonight, the officiating balanced out, but the emotions of the Attack did not. “It is what it is,” said Jesse Blacker, one of his favourite lines. “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
“They had habits of getting away from their game,” said Matt Fraser, who scored two goals for the Ice for the second straight game. It was not a totally unpredictable result. Despite being down 2-0 after the first period, the scoring chances were 8-7 for the Ice. The appropriate statistical correction took place, probably a little sooner than expected, as Kootenay scored 3 goals in 3:26 early in the second period, from Erik Benoit, Joe Antilla, and Fraser, to take the lead. Nathan Lieuwen shut the door until an early third period goal from Mike Halmo in what was effectively garbage time. The Ice were 2/7 on the powerplay and 4/5 on the penalty kill, but scored two shorthanded goals.
“They came out hard and we were a little surprised,” said Lieuwen. “There were a few extra saves I could have made there.” While the goaltending carousel happened at the other end, and Jordan Binnington came back into the game in the third period, Lieuwen would “play every game if [he] could,” and a smile, no less. The lanky goaltender hasn’t been the star of any games so far, but he’s been up there in a tournament dominated by the goaltending of Binnington and Saint John’s Jacob DeSerres. “I though Stajcer played well. He’s a good goalie. They all are.”
Kootenay will face Mississauga in the semi-final on Friday, while Owen Sound will have to be satisfied with their first ever OHL Championship. “I’m really proud of how we came back to win [the championship],” Reeds said.
For the Ice, they started 0-2 but have fought their way back right into tournament contention, in the same manner of the Windsor Spitfires two years ago. “They won,” Kootenay coach Kris Knoblauch said of the Spitfires. “We’ve been the underdogs right from the first round of playoffs. We like others counting us out.”
1: Matt Fraser, KTY
2: Nathan Lieuwen, KTY
3: Joe Antilla, KTY