The Haliburton County Huskies are one win away from securing their spot in the second round of the OJHL playoffs, with a potentially pivotal game five at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena March 16.
The hometown team leads their first round, best-of-seven playoff series with the Toronto Patriots 3-1, with back-to-back 4-3 overtime victories on home ice Sunday and in the city Tuesday putting them in pole position for post-season progression.
After a 5-2 win in Game 1 in Minden March 9, the Huskies fell 3-1 in Toronto March 11, setting the stage for a huge matchup back at home March 12.
After a scoreless first period, Nick Dowling sent the home fans into a frenzy midway through the second, beating Patriots goaltender Christopher Quizi after an initial drive from Josh Sordo and follow-up attempt by Marco Iozzo were saved.
The excitement was short-lived, with a quickfire Patriots double – at 13:21 through Nolan Ling and 18:18 by Jake Mallory – leaving the Huskies with a mountain to climb heading into the third.
Coach Ryan Ramsay adjusted his lines during the break, and it paid immediate dividends. After winning the opening draw, the home side zipped the puck around the ice, eventually finding Patrick Saini in the slot. His shot was saved by Quizi, but Lucas Stevenson was perfectly placed to flick the puck home on the rebound with just 29 seconds on the clock.
The ice tilted from there, with the Huskies peppering the Patriots goal. Iozzo grabbed the go-ahead tally at 8:01 before a powerplay marker from visiting captain Zach Ophoven at 12:20 sent the game to overtime.
It was one-way traffic during the extra frame, with Saini sparking mass celebration with the game-winner after six-plus minutes of relentless Huskies’ pressure.
“That was a major turning point in the series,” Ramsay said.
Repeating the trick
It looked like being a comfortable evening for the blue and white March 14, with the Huskies racing out to a 2-0 lead early on goals from Sam Solarino and Ty Colins.
Jaden Reyers gave the Patriots hope with a tally 30 seconds before the first buzzer. Stevens re-established a two-goal lead for at 6:16 of the second, but some bad bounces and penalty trouble left the blue and white vulnerable. Ling made it a one-goal game at 8:43, before Ophoven tied things on the powerplay at 14:29.
Blueliner Josh Sordo was the unlikely hero, scoring just 14 seconds into the extra period, assisted by Saini.
“It seems like every night we are having different guys stepping up, which you need if you’re going to do well in the playoffs,” Ramsay said.
“Thursday is going to be a huge night for us, to have the chance to win the series at home… our fans are the best in the league, they’re the seventh man out on the ice. The motivation they give the guys to push on is amazing,” he added.
Puck drop Thursday at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena is 7 p.m. If needed, game six is in Toronto March 18, with game seven in Minden March 19, with a 2:30 p.m. start.