Season 27’s first Semifinals game featured the Tornados and the Lightning, a rematch of the feisty round-robin game played two weeks ago. Captain Alex McLeod had the exact same lineup as before, with everyone present except d-man Steve Rievaj, but Captain Matt Mitchell had a full bench this time around because Peter MacDonald was on hand for this one. Jason Boudreau stopped an early slapper from Kenny White, and Mike DeGrace turned aside a twenty-footer when Bruce Hudson teed up Matt Monk in the slot. Darcy Edwards missed high on a shot from fifteen feet out, and Hudson’s low shot past a defender went just wide after sailing between DeGrace and Greg Wheaton, who was camped out at the back door. Play went back the other way and Dennis Guthro finished off a nice play from Mitchell to draw first blood for the Bolts just before the five-minute mark. Kyle Bayers and Chris Sampson were doing a good job of cycling the ball, but a blocked shot from the perimeter led to a 3-on-2 break for the Lightning. Kenny set up Darcy for a chance in front and he made no mistake, putting his team up by two.
The Tors got the ball deep after the faceoff and Greg centered from the corner to Monk. Mike got a piece of the shot with his trapper, but the ball spun down and trickled just over the line. The teams exchanged chances for the next four minutes, but the defensemen were hesitant to jump up into the rush and the goalies fended off everything that came their way. Sampson came flying off the bench and took a pass near center. He darted to his off-wing side, then fired a low shot before crashing the net. Mike stopped Chris’ initial whack at the rebound, but the ball squirted sideways and Bruce swept a low shot through the five-hole to knot the score at 2-2. Neither team wanted to surrender the next goal, and it showed. Sampson was getting to dump-ins first and controlling the ball well, but Mitchell wouldn’t give him any openings to cut to the middle. Hudson won a couple of battles in the corner against Marc Davison, but Marc stuck with him and wouldn’t let him get free. Kenny, Darcy, and Dennis weren’t given much space to work with by Alex, Monk, and Scotty Harrigan. Jason stopped and covered point shots from Eddie Kell and Peter, preventing secondary opportunities. Bruce tipped a low point shot from Alex over the crossbar, Mike steered away two long blasts from Harrigan, and the score was still knotted at two after the teams played nine scoreless minutes to close out the period.
After five more scoreless minutes, Darcy tracked down a dump-in to the corner and centered to Kenny, who was charging up the middle. White’s quick shot left Jason no chance, and the goal restored the Lightning lead. Dennis took a lead pass from Matt on the next shift and scored with a quick wrister just inside the far post, making it 4-2 with eleven minutes left. Mike was on fire for the next few minutes, stopping several good chances as the Tors applied the pressure. Bruce snapped the rebound from a sharp-angle shot just over the crossbar from the doorstep, and Kyle hit the crossbar with a shot through traffic. Harrigan got called for roughing with seven minutes left, but the Tors came up with a huge effort on the penalty kill. Jason darted out and poked a stretch pass away from Dennis just before Scott returned to the floor, and Bruce knocked the ball off Darcy’s stick ten feet from the Tornado net just after the teams returned to even strength. Mike made a good stop on Greg as play went the other way, but Scott was able to gather in the ball after the attempted clearing play got deflected. His hard wrister found the net low on the blocker side, cutting the deficit to one goal with just over three minutes left.
Darcy headed to the doorstep on the next shift, and there was a big collision. Darcy had spun off Monk to chase down the ball after he’d missed a hard pass through the slot, but he knocked Jason down in the process. Monk was penalized for roughing on the play, the referees insisting that he’d shoved Darcy into Jason, and that call left the Tors down a man and down a goal with just over two minutes left in regulation. The penalty killers were deliberately aggressive right from the start, so the Lightning faded back. They held the ball behind their own net, stalling the action and killing time off the clock. But then they moved out and dumped the ball deep into the corner. Sampson picked off a hurried centering pass, saw a whole lot of empty space in front of him, and headed straight up the middle. With only Peter between him and the net, he used his opponent as a screen and fired a low wrister after crossing the center line. The ball found room low on the glove side, and Sampson’s shorthanded goal tied the game 4-4 with one minute to go. Many of the Tors were celebrating wildly on the playing floor, but Bruce was yelling at Alex to remind him that the penalty wasn’t over yet and the game was still up for grabs. Play resumed, the PK unit finished the job, time expired, and the game headed into overtime. Kenny and Darcy didn’t start, Kyle and Chris did. Jason stopped a shot from Dennis and play moved the other way. Kyle fired a high slapper from the point and the ball spun crazily off the back wall. Sampson pounced as it squirted out on the far side and flicked it past a surprised DeGrace, capping off the unlikely comeback just thirty seconds into the extra period and sending the Tornados into the Finals.
Here’s one final thought: When the last-place team can take the first-place team to sudden-death overtime in a Semifinals game, how good is your League?
The second Semifinals game pitted the Cyclones against the Thunder in a rematch of last week’s game, with both teams sporting a full bench. Kevin Shute put the dark side ahead in the opening minute when he one-timed a feed from Woody Gouthro past Dan Nauss from thirty feet out. Gill Mombourquette fished out the rebound from Woody’s long slapper on the following shift and tucked it in from the doorstep, giving the Thunder a 2-0 lead. Somebody from the Thunder took a penalty in the corner by the main staircase when play continued, but it wasn’t recorded on the scoresheet. Nonetheless, the Cyclones went on a man advantage. Captain Sean Fitzgerald stopped a clearing attempt up the middle and knocked the ball back towards the Thunder net. Blain Sullivan shot the ball and hit a defender, but Matt Strum flicked in the rebound to get the green men on the scoreboard. Gill reeled in the ball behind the Cyclones’ net on the next shift after Mitch Ellis’ shot went wide, curling out front and wrapping it in on his forehand to make it 3-1. Keeping his foot on the pedal, Gill fired a hard east-west pass across the goalmouth from way out wide. Travis Whitehead fired it in from the far side at the ten-minute mark, extending the lead to three and prompting Fitz to call a timeout.
As it turned out, the timeout didn’t help much. The Cyclones couldn’t quite make things click on offence, always looking dangerous but never breaking free to seriously challenge Marty Kane with clear scoring chances. Marty made routine saves, his teammates prevented second chances, and the clock kept ticking. Keith Osborne came close on a centering pass from Shaun Goodwin, but Marty made a toe save to keep it out and the action swung the other way. Gill led Captain Tony Casella with a pass as he flew off the bench towards the net, and Tony finished it off to put his team ahead 5-1. The Cyclones vigorously protested because of what appeared to have been a blatant too-many-men infraction during the line change on that play, but the refs allowed the goal to stand. Tony fed a pass across to Shute after the ensuing faceoff, but Dan got across to make a great pad save. Travis took a penalty for holding his opponent’s stick with three minutes to go in the period, but the green machine stalled on the powerplay. Marty stopped back-to-back point shots from Goods and Fitz, and the man advantage expired without generating very many good scoring chances. Somewhat ironically, the Cyclones were handed an iffy too-many-men penalty in the final minute when the ball rattled around near their bench during a line change. A dubious roughing penalty against Mitch just a few seconds later seemed like a make-up call. This all led to some 3-on-3 action, but neither team could find the net and the score remained 5-1 Thunder until the intermission.
The Thunder looked dangerous as the 3-on-3 continued, but then the Cyclones got their brief man advantage. Fitz sniped the short side on a centering pass from Keith to make it 5-2, and Mike Collier took a tripping penalty on the following shift. Fitz teed up Blain for a point shot on the powerplay and the ball found the net behind Kane, making it a 5-3 game. The Cyclones still had fifteen minutes left to stage a comeback bid and they nearly added another one, but Ryan Rideout narrowly missed tipping in Strum’s slap-pass to the back door. After that, things quickly went sour for them. Travis reeled in a pass from Gill near center, took a couple of strides, and fired a low off-speed shot past a defender that handcuffed Nauss and found the low corner. On the next shift, Mitch launched a long-range howitzer that hit Dan and stayed out, but Travis deposited the rebound to finish off his hat-trick and make it 7-3. When Woody hit Travis with a slap-pass to the back door on the following shift, his easy tap-in gave him four on the night and made it a five-goal lead with less than ten minutes remaining. Anil Snook, who’d been cheering for his green brothers from the skybox, looked eager to join the fray after witnessing that goal. He couldn’t do that, of course, but his high spirits and competitive fire were strong indicators that he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with when he makes his return next season.
A successful comeback bid was going to require a healthy dose of Matt Strum, and he was doing a great job of pressuring the point while defending once play got back underway. His positioning was so good, in fact, that his opponent’s shot struck him square in the pills. A brave effort to regain his footing lasted just long enough to let him stumble three steps and fall into his bench. Now, if there was going to be a rally, it would need to be sparked by his teammates. Tommy Zinavovic and Keith were stopped by Marty during a frenzy in the goalmouth, and the ball was cleared into the green zone with a high dump-in. Fitz fed the ball across to Goods, who received the pass by the benches and uncorked a rocket from well inside his own end. His shot found the top of the net, cutting the deficit to three with about four minutes left. Keith swatted down a botched alley-oop clearance ten feet in front of Marty and tried to score with a move to his backhand, but Kane got enough of his pad on the shot to keep it out. Time ran out on Sean and his Cyclones after that, and Tony’s team will advance thanks to a convincing 8-5 win. Next week, the final showdown begins as the Thunder meet the Tornados in Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship series for the Achilles Cup.