PLAYOFFS - WEEK 1

Captain Alex McLeod had his entire Lightning team on hand for the first game of the round-robin segment of the playoffs against Captain Sean Fitzgerald and his Cyclones, who wouldn’t have the playmaking abilities of Adam MacKenzie for this one. After five scoreless minutes, Rylan Smith chipped a pass from the corner behind the net to Bruce Hudson, who fed the ball back to his linemate as he was darting to the middle. Rylan accelerated swiftly when the ball arrived and whipped a shot past Dan Nauss on the far side to open the scoring. Twenty seconds later, however, Mike Collier got rung up for tripping penalty. That opened the door for Fitz to take an outlet from his goaltender, drive up the floor, and fire a long slapper into heavy traffic. The ball found its way through and sailed past Peter Regimbald before landing in the net for a powerplay goal that evened the score at one apiece. 

Rylan converted a nice play from Ryan Rideout for his second goal at the midway mark of the period, but it was the green men who shifted it up a gear when play continued. Jordan Castilloux lit the lamp to tie the score moments later thanks to a strong play from Matt Mitchell, and Dan Cavanaugh put the Cyclones ahead a minute later when he put the finishing touches on a setup from Fitz. After five scoreless minutes that saw the green machine constantly break up plays and create counterattacks, Roy Monk ripped a pass from Chris Sampson past Peter to give the Cyclones a two-goal lead on the undefeated top seed! Rylan stole the ball in the final minute and drove up the middle before sliding a pass to the wing, where Bruce corralled the ball and wristed a shot through the five-hole, cutting the deficit to 4-3 before the halftime break hit. 

Alex crashed the middle and wrapped the rebound from Anil’s shot past Dan to tie the game before the final period was even twenty seconds old. Three minutes later, Matt Monk made a nice play to set up Rylan for his hat-trick marker and the Bolts reclaimed the lead. Jordan had been the target of aggressive coverage all game long, but he managed to sneak free during a goalmouth scramble and he buried the rebound from Boomer’s shot to level the score at 5-5 with about twelve minutes remaining. Twenty seconds later, Anil curled into the middle with the ball after he’d caused a broken play and ripped a fifteen-footer past Nauss to restore the Lightning lead. That led to nearly six minutes of intense action that saw both teams struggle for the all-important next goal. 

Eventually it was Anil who made it happen, driving hard up the solid wall on his forehand before whipping an east-west pass to Cameron Power as he sprinted up his off-wing side. The result was a wicked one-timer from twenty feet into the top corner on the short side, ball in the net before Dan could even finish turning his head. The Cyclones pushed back hard but the Bolts closed off the middle and Peter steered aside everything that came his way. When Anil emerged with the ball from a four-man scrum behind the Cyclones net, a touch pass to Rideout reversed the direction of the play. Dan looked over the wrong shoulder, Ryan potted a wraparound on his backhand with under two to go, and the outcome was no longer in doubt. Time expired and the Lightning made up for a shaky opening period with a strong final period, prevailing 8-5 against a feisty Cyclones team that had dominated for long stretches in the first half of the game. 

The Hurricanes had a full bench for their opening game but the Blizzard weren’t so lucky, forced to begin the Ballstar Playoffs without key defenseman Mark Slaunwhite and Sheamus MacDonald. Early on, Myles Raymond slid a pass across the top of the crease and Greg Wheaton slammed the ball past goaltender Marty Kane to open the scoring. Next shift, Scott Cross rifled a high slapper from the bench area. Netminder Jason Boudreau made a great reaction save, flashing the trapper just in time, but Captain Dwayne Blanchard collected the ball. Circling out wide along the solid wall, he fed a diagonal pass across the slot. Dave Cooper made a quick move to his backhand and slipped a shot through the five-hole to even the score. Marty came up big as play continued, stopping Greg’s initial shot on a clearcut breakaway and thwarting him again on the rebound chance. Steve Rievaj got handed a holding penalty for tying up Cooper along the solid wall, but the red PK unit held their ground and blue PP unit came up empty. 

Captain Gord Caines collected a cross-floor pass from Geoff Briggs near center, took three steps, and surprised Marty with a hard wrister that found room just inside the far post. Gord returned the favor on their next shift, sending a return pass to GB on a give-n-go play and watching his linemate bury a high wrister on the trapper side. The blue crew were getting some chances as well, but they were getting frustrated because they couldn’t finish. Jason denied Dave on a backhand wraparound attempt, Scott fired a slapper that sailed just over the crossbar, and Dwayne ripped a high blast that went post-crossbar and veered out of play by the main entrance. Timeout blue, ninety seconds left. Matt Grove drove in deep when play resumed and teed up Myles for a successful snipe with a slick pass from behind the net, bumping the lead to three. Marty made a nice blocker save on Grove’s twenty-footer in the final minute. Kenny White retrieved the ball and sprung Dwayne on a breakaway. He deked to the backhand and knifed a shot over Jason, but it sailed too high and the score held at 4-1 until the intermission. 

Geoff won the ball behind the Blizzard net and slowly picked his way out front, scoring with a sudden spin to his forehand at the top of the crease. Next shift, Gord spun off a defender at center and spotted Grove sprinting up the floor. Quick pass, clear break, B-F-B, roof daddy. Up 6-1, the Hurricanes soon found themselves shorthanded again when Greg was penalized for breaking the new “high stick” rule. The crimson crew had the best scoring chances while Greg served his time. Alex De Sousa picked off a pass and walked in alone, freezing Marty with a fake shot but losing control at the last second as he exploded past him on his forehand. Gord picked off an ill-advised outlet pass right in front of the net but couldn’t convert his B-F-B deke. Even so, the red PK was successful again. Greg scored his second with about six minutes left, a screened shot that hit Marty’s arm and dribbled over the line before he could corral it. Thirty seconds later, Cooper wound up for a big slapper from the center circle and Jason made the save, but Blanchard knocked in the rebound from the doorstep. Dwayne made a hard east-west pass that teed up Scott for an open side, making it 7-3 with five minutes remaining, but the boys in blue couldn’t claw any closer and the Hurricanes ran out the clock to seal the win. 

The Tornados (missing Brandon Kane) and Thunder (missing Freddie Hutchison) were both looking to bounce back from lopsided defeats last week, both results mainly due to key absences and poor attendance. Eddie Kell scored with a low slapper from center that surprised goalkeeper Adam Larder, finding room just inside the post. Ricky Miller took a slashing penalty for getting the blade of his stick into Matt Strum’s hands. Kyle Cross tipped a shot and the ball clipped the crossbar, fell in the crease, and was covered by Larder. The PK was successful, but Matt Nelson took another penalty moments later for tripping up Steve Jazic. Strum couldn’t convert his backhand lacrosse-style wrap on the powerplay and the Thunder PK unit prevailed again. 

Captain Tony Casella fed a pass from out wide into the middle, where Nelson ran onto it and ripped a low shot past Bob Strum on the blocker side. Same shift, Woody Gouthro found Tony with a stretch pass and the Thunder Chief cashed in on his chance to put his team up 2-1. Peter MacDonald stung the goalpost on a 2-on-1 break with Nate Atwell, and Bob made a great save when Woody tipped Ricky’s point shot to keep the Tors within one. At the other end, KC fed the ball to Captain Kyle Bayers from down low and his shot found the mark, knotting the game at two. Thirty seconds later, Ricky potted Tony’s quick pass to the back post and the Thunder lead was restored. Strum one-timed Jim MacDonald’s pass from the corner past Larder in the late stages of the period, and the score remained tied 3-3 after twenty. 

Strum made a nice steal at center and burst between two opponents. With defenders in hot pursuit, he sold a backhand shot and whipped the ball quickly to his forehand before tucking it in. Twenty seconds later, the Thunder were awarded a penalty shot when Jazzy used his hand to clear the ball from the crease. Bob stayed with Woody on the B-F-B deke and ran him out of real estate, preserving the one-goal lead. After six scoreless minutes, Nelson fired a shot from center that hit a defender’s shinpad and ramped over top of traffic in the middle. Bob never saw the ball as it soared in high and dropped into the net behind him for the tying goal. Next shift, a botched clearance play from the Tornados net put the ball right to Tony, who roofed it past the trapper to put his team up 5-4. Jim fed the ball ahead to KC as play continued. He knocked down the pass, chipped the ball to himself, and batted it in for the tying goal. Larder stopped Strum’s forehand wrap attempt, Bob stopped Tony’s deke from doorstep and then made a great blocker save on Nate, time ran out, and the game headed into a shootout. 

KC lost the handle on a deke and Bob stopped Ricky on a B-F-B move. Strum moved in very slowly and then lost the handle ball with a late speed burst, but Tony lit the lamp with a quick F-B-F move. Bayers needed to score and he did, ripping a shot just inside the post on the trapper side. Woody still had a chance to win it but Bob held the fort, and that led to a long stretch of dominance by the goaltenders. In fact, there were no more goals for the next seven rounds! Sixteen shooters in a row came away emptyhanded before Peter MacDonald ended it with a low shot to the trapper side, giving the Thunder a 6-5 victory after eleven rounds of shooters.

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.