PLAYOFFS - WEEK 1

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WEEK 5 - SHORT REGULAR SEASON COMPLETE

 

The Lightning started with seven runners in their season finale. The Tornados still had a chance to overtake the Bolts for first place with a win, but they’d need to do it without Eddie Kell, Brandon Kane, and Jim MacDonald. Captain Kyle Bayers got things started on the right note, setting up Kyle Cross for the opening goal on the game’s first shift. Utilizing plenty of crisscross cuts and cycling the ball, they continued to maintain possession for a long time in the Lightning zone and paid it off when KC eluded coverage and converted another nice feed from KB just past the four-minute mark. At the other end, Bruce Hudson took an outlet pass from Captain Alex McLeod along the solid wall. Cutting to the middle, he threw a backhander at the net that clipped a defender on its way in. The ball hit goaltender Bob Strum but he couldn’t find it as it descended like a “Plinko” chip from his blocker to his goal pants, then fell onto his pad and dribbled over the red line to get the Lightning on the scoreboard. Twelve seconds later, KC eluded his defender and ripped a centering pass from KB past goalkeeper Peter Regimbald for his hat-trick goal, making it 3-1 Tornados after five minutes of play. 

Peter was visibly agitated about the sloppy coverage that led to the third goal. The TSN Turning Point came moments later, before the ball was even dropped for the next faceoff. That’s because Mike Collier, the Lightning Minister of Defense, made his arrival and delivered his familiar weekly sermon about team success coming from team defense. Play continued and Bruce threaded a pass from down low to Rylan Smith, whose shot from the solid wall found room on the far side and cut the deficit to 3-2. Next shift, Cameron Power slammed in the rebound from Alex’s point shot. Anil Snook buried the rebound from Cameron’s shot about a minute later to give the Bolts their first lead, and Rylan scored on a forehand wraparound on his next trip to the floor. Fast-forward three minutes and Hudson fed a pass back to the point, where Alex faked a shot and set up Rylan for his hat-trick goal with a quick pass to the back post. Later, with time winding down, Bruce spotted Rylan driving up the middle and whipped a hard pass to the top of the crease. Rylan chipped it upstairs, where the ball spun off the crossbar into the mesh on the roof of the net and then fell straight down as the buzzer sounded. Referee Dwayne Blanchard waved it off and would not be persuaded by protests from the Lightning players and the skybox spectators, so the lead remained 6-3 after twenty minutes of play. 

Three minutes in, Alex picked off an outlet attempt and fed a pass ahead. Rylan scored from his off-wing side, then he hunted down a loose ball in the corner shortly after the faceoff. His sharp angle shot hit Bob, the ball came out front, and Bruce scored with a spinning backhand shot that he immediately dedicated to some guy named Gill. When Cameron and Anil each scored their second of the game on the same shift a couple of minutes later, the lead was 10-3 and the Tornados were obviously feeling the effects of a short bench. After Anil and Cameron completed their hat tricks on a pair of nice outlet passes from Collier, Matt Strum put a great finish on his strong drive to the net to end the Lightning goal streak and make it a 12-4 game. Rylan set up Cameron for his fourth, Collier took a tripping penalty, and Matt picked the top corner with a wicked wrister for powerplay goal. Rylan stole the ball in the final minute and notched his fifth, capping off the scoring in a 14-5 Lightning win. KC ended up being the points leader (25) and goals leader (16) in his rookie season. Bayers led the league with seventeen helpers in his debut as a Captain, and his Tornados team was still guaranteed to finish no worse than third. Meanwhile, the Bolts finished in first place with the best goal differential (+33) and four players cracking the Top 10 in scoring.

The Blizzard (sporting a full bench this week) could finish as high as third or as low as sixth, depending on the results of the final two games. The Cyclones (missing Tommy Zivanovic and Roy Monk) were in a similar situation, destined to finish somewhere in the bottom three. Captain Dwayne Blanchard hunted down a rebound behind the net and fed the ball out front, where Dave Cooper roofed a shot past Dan Nauss to open the scoring just before the four-minute mark. Skipping forward a couple of shifts, Adam MacKenzie took a lead pass from Captain Sean Fitzgerald and carried the ball over half. Stepping into the middle, he rifled a twenty-footer past a screen that struck Jordan Castilloux’s shinpad at the side of the net and caromed in past Marty Kane. It pays to be in the right spot! The score held at one apiece for the next five minutes thanks to solid D and stellar stops at both ends of the floor. Pressure from Troy Farnell led to a busted clearance up the solid wall and the ball squirted back to Mark Slaunwhite, who stepped into the middle and lasered a shot past Dan’s blocker to restore the Blizzard lead. 

Matt Mitchell really stepped up his defensive game after that goal, easily winning races to dump-ins and loose balls as well as giving himself time to make a smart play. One such play was a stretch pass to send Jordan in on a 2-on-1 break with Chris Sampson. Jordan passes, Chris shoots, and Marty makes the save. Ball comes back into the slot, Jordan shoots, and Marty lunges to make another save. Blizzard D-men are nowhere to be found, Sampson scoops up the loose ball and pots the rebound, and the Cyclones draw even. Dan and Marty continued to put forth solid efforts after play resumed and the game stayed knotted 2-2 until the intermission. 

So now it’s early in the final frame and Cooper winds up at center, rifling a slapper that spanks the crossbar but sails high off the back wall. Play turns the other way and Adam charges past the benches at center before sending a sweet slap pass to Jordan for a tip-in as he drives in hard towards the back post, giving the Cyclones their first lead of the night. The blue crew started to apply the pressure when play resumed and Fitz called a timeout with about thirteen minutes left to give his shorthanded squad a breather. That ploy worked well for the first two minutes, but then Kenny White kicked it up a notch and won a battle for the ball near the benches. Faking a slapper, he sent a hard east-west pass across the middle to the far side. Let me tell you something, folks. Scott Cross doesn’t miss one-timers from THERE. 

Ten seconds later, Scott fired a sharp angle blast from out wide and the ball shot skyward. Dan wasn’t sure where it went and Dwayne crashed the net, swatting the ball past the unsuspecting goaltender after it dropped into the crease. After the faceoff, Dwayne got the ball high in the slot and slid a sneaky diagonal pass to Mark for a one-timer that found some room on the blocker side. Twenty-seven seconds, three goals, and a 5-3 Blizzard lead with less than ten to go. Jordan split the D on a strong drive to the net, but Marty held his ground and made the stop. Moments later, Mitchell sent Sampson in alone with a stretch pass and Marty prevailed again, shutting him down on a deke attempt. 

Ernlie Publicover made a strong run up the floor and sent the ball to Kenny in the middle. A fake shot sent multiple defenders sliding across the goalmouth with attempted blocks, and a no-look pass out wide gave Scott an open side. Easy goal, a 6-3 lead, and less than seven on the clock. Marty stoned Jordan again on a backhand try but JC got the ball again a few seconds later and wired a wrister over the trapper for his hat-trick marker. A sketchy sliding play by Cooper led to a collision with Jordan near the entrance door with only seconds left in the game, and that led to a heated discussion between them. Penalties were dished out, time expired, the dust settled, and the Blizzard came out on the right side of a 6-4 score in a hard-fought game. Marty’s week-best .920 save percentage (on fifty shots) really jumps off the page here, doesn’t it? 

Last game of the regular season. Lightning first for sure, Cyclones sixth for sure, Tors no worse than third, Blizzard in 3-4-5 limbo. Even in a five-game regular season, the parity of BallStar Hockey shines through. Seems like we’ve got a really good thing going on right here. Hey, let’s bring in the combatants. The Hurricanes (without Adam Healy) and Thunder (without Ricky Miller, Peter MacDonald, and Matt Nelson) squared off for a battle that ultimately proved to be a lesson in the importance of (a) having your best players on hand, and (b) having enough subs to stay fresh. An early tripping call against Shannon Thoms set the stage for the maroon platoon to grab the lead, but Adam Larder and the Thunder PK stepped up to hold them off the scoreboard. Great start! Alas, it all went south after that. Greg Wheaton buried a cross-crease feed from Myles Raymond, Captain Gord Caines lit the lamp when Matt Grove flicked a centering pass from the corner, and Greg buried another centering pass from Myles to make it 3-0 Hurricanes. Grove did a nice job making room for himself before sending another centering pass from behind the net to cue up Greg for his hattie, and Geoff Briggs sniped one top corner on a dish from Gord. Briggs got his second with a sick backhand juke after Gord sprung him on a breakaway, making it 6-0 Hurricanes. Captain Tony Casella got his team on the scoresheet when he headed to the net and cleaned up the rebound from Freddie Hutchison’s shot. The dark knights kept on pushing, but Jason Boudreau and the red D were rock solid after that. Gord scored on a give-n-go from down low, Greg got his fourth on another play from Myles, Grove hooked up Briggs for the hat trick, and Raymond set up Wheaton for his fifth of the night to make it 10-1 Hurricanes before the halftime break. 

Woody Gouthro pounced on a loose ball and ripped a point shot past Jason in the first minute of play, making it 10-2. Four minutes later, Greg teed up Steve Rievaj for a long slapper that whistled past a crowd and planted itself in the roof of the net. One minute later, a slick one-touch pass from Briggs sent Gord in alone and a successful backhand deke put his squad up 12-2. After seven scoreless minutes, Tony made a smooth chip-pass to Shannon as he drove in on net and watched his teammate bury it from eight feet out. Freddie set up Woody for a successful slapper from the wing as time drew short, Briggs notched his fourth on a crafty slap-pass from Alex De Sousa with about a minute left to wrap up the scoring, and the Hurricanes vaulted into second place in the standings with a 13-4 win. The Thunder are a deceptive fifth, the Blizzard grab fourth, and the third-place Tornados are expected to remain shorthanded as the Playoffs begin next week.