By Stewart Grant and Pat Payton
Sometimes, a hockey series can turn in an instant, or in this case…18 seconds. From the moment the series began, it was obvious that the St. Marys Rock and Ingersoll Express matched up well. These were two clubs who relied on skating and puck movement as opposed to physical intimidation. Though the series had its share of hitting, the physical play was by the book and not malicious.
St. Marys held the edge in play through the first two games in which they battled to a scoreless draw in Game 1, and the Frayne Bantams rolled to a 3-0 shutout victory in Game 2. Late into Game 3 in St. Marys, the Rock held a 2-1 advantage and appeared poised to take a 5-1 stranglehold in the series. Then suddenly, the series shifted in favour of a hungry Ingersoll squad…
Game 3 – Ingersoll 3, St. Marys 2
At the PRC last Wednesday night, the Express stunned the Frayne Bantams 3-2 with two late goals, just 18 seconds apart. The Ingersoll win evened the six-point OMHA semi-final series at three points apiece.
After the Express opened the scoring with an early goal, Rock centre Jake Pfaff tied it midway through the first period from Gavin Muir and Jake Grant.
St. Marys carried the play to Ingersoll in the second period, and eventually grabbed a 2-1 lead at the 8:12 mark. Grant was rewarded for going to the net and he banged home a loose puck. Muir and Emmett Doupe drew assists.
Midway through the third, the Frayne penalty-killers did a good job killing off a 4-on-3 Express powerplay. With 1:48 remaining, Ingersoll pulled its goaltender for a sixth attacker. After the Rock came within inches of an empty-net goal, the visitors tied it on a screened shot from the slot with 1:08 left on the clock.
Then, with just 50 seconds remaining, the Express struck again as a deflected shot found its way into the St. Marys net and the goal would stand up as the game winner.
“After we just missed the empty net, the game turned pretty quick and sometimes it’s hard to accept when it happens that fast,” coach Switzer said. “We just didn’t react to their puck pressure at the end the way we needed to. Hopefully we can play well again down there (in Ingersoll) Thursday.”
Game 4 – Ingersoll 2, St. Marys 1
Game 4 in Ingersoll was a tight defensive battle with much of the play based within the neutral zone. The game remained scoreless until the second period when a shot from the point got past goaltender Jack Aarts. The Express then took a 2-0 advantage early in the third period after jumping on a rebound.
The Rock were unable to generate many scoring opportunities in this game but Ian Boyd converted on a goalmouth scramble with 3:29 remaining, with Cam Stapleton earning the assist. St. Marys continued to press in the game’s final moments and came within inches of tying the game as Nathan Switzer desperately dove towards a puck that had gotten behind the Ingersoll goalie.
Game 5 – Ingersoll 2, St. Marys 1
Suddenly trailing in the series, the Rock needed wins in consecutive games Saturday and Sunday to come back and earn a spot in the finals.
Ingersoll jumped out to a 2-0 lead with two goals late in the first period.
St. Marys closed the gap with three minutes to go in the second stanza, when Jake Pfaff connected from Gavin Muir and Jake Grant.
Similar to Game 4, the Rock came oh-so-close to tying the game in the third period, with the team and half the arena cheering after a Zach Rooney point shot appeared to some to cross the goal line, but it was not to be. Ingersoll held on for another one-goal win to take the series 7 points to 3.
Coach Switzer reflected on the game, and the series, with the Independent: “Our boys played well but again Ingersoll seemed to be a little more puck hungry than us. We were losing the small battles on the ice and in the end that was the difference in the series as we just couldn’t generate any inside pressure in their end to be able to get those scoring chances that we were getting earlier in the playoffs.”
“The Coaching staff is very proud of the season and the overall effort put in by the boys. We felt that all the kids improved throughout the season and the results showed in our ability to get to game 5 in the semi-finals. We had a couple of good runs in two different Silver Stick Tournaments as well so, all in all, there were a lot of things to be happy about this year,” added Coach Switzer.