Whatever these games mean, the moments become part of us. On one end, Kootenay competed hard and stayed alive in the tournament with a 5-4 win over the Saint John Sea Dogs. On the other end, despite losing focus for chunks of minutes and being outplayed, Saint John managed to keep it close and tied it up in hilarious fashion with just 15 seconds to go.
But, hey, the fact that Tomas Jurco scored on what was effectively a soccer-style header hardly mattered. Matt Fraser ended up winning this one for the Ice, on a controversial goal wherein Max Reinhart failed to keep the puck in at the blue line and knocked the puck deep to Fraser, who, from the side, squeezed it five-hole on Sea Dogs goalie Mathieu Corbeil-Thériault.
“There’s no reason for me to stop playing. If there’s a whistle there, that’s certainly different,” said Fraser post-game. “I never shoot five-hole, so it was probably kind of a lucky shot.”
Reinhart took the same path. “I was just going as hard as I could,” he said, almost oblivious to the fact that, for the second time in five games at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, the winning goal has been scored with a player clearly offside. As Kris Knoblauch said as Kootenay’s coach, “at this point in the season, you expect the best from your players, and you expect the best from the officials.”
The game was perhaps too entertaining to be spent bickering about a blown call, as, after a boring first period that played to the benefit of a tired Sea Dog team, the two heated up and scored eight goals in the final two periods, thanks to some strong goaltending by Sea Dogs backup Corbeil (who was in for starter Jacob DeSerres as Saint John has already clinched a spot in the Final) which kept this game tight.
The Ice outshot the Sea Dogs 45-23, but the 11-11 line in the third period was more indicative of not only the pace of the game, but also the feelings of the Ice faithful who were on hand to watch as their team either stayed alive or got eliminated. To take down what Reinhart effectively called “an all-star team” was not easy, even when the Ice outplayed the Sea Dogs for long stretches. “Our team just didn’t compete hard enough,” said Saint John coach Gerard Gallant.
After taking a slashing penalty, Jonathan Huberdeau was called by his last name alone over the public address. Jurco scored off his head. Is this team of offensive flash a Brazilian soccer team, or a New Brunswick hockey team? “It’s a funny moment” said Stanislav Galiev. “Lucky bounce.”
“I’ve never scored a goal like that,” said Jurco, who has increased his draft stock this tournament (he had another goal back in the second period). “I’ve scored a goal by my foot, and by my leg, but I’ve never scored by my head.” The smiling Slovakian winger spoke through a strong accent and the thickest playoff beard on either side of the ice. His teammates call him YouTube Sensation, but in the press room he is known as Tommy Toe-Drag or the Duke of Dekes and Dangles. There was nothing pretty about his tying goal, however.
Also of note was an assist by Cody Eakin and another strong game. “It’s nice to get a win on this day,” said Eakin, who turned 20 on Tuesday.
The Ice move on to play the loser of Wednesday’s game between Mississauga and Owen Sound, the rematch of the OHL Championship series, on Thursday. The Sea Dogs don’t play until Sunday. “We want to get [Kootenay] again in the finals,” said Galiev. “We’re going to beat them.”