Ice 7 Attack 3
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Matt Fraser and the Kootenay Ice have another shot at the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Fraser and Cody Eakin both had two goals and an assist Thursday to rally the Ice past a short-handed Owen Sound Attack 7-3 in the tie-breaker game at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Kootenay fell behind 2-0 after the first period before a Hershey Centre gathering of 4,916 spectators — the first tournament game not to sell out. But the Western Hockey League champions then scored six straight en route to a semifinal showdown Friday against the tournament-host Majors, who edged Kootenay 2-1 in a round-robin game Sunday.
“When we played Mississauga . . . we felt we probably (deserved) a better fate than what we got,” Fraser said. “We’re a desperate hockey team and so are they.
“We want to get to the final just as bad as they do. It’s going to be important to get that first goal.”
The semifinal winner faces off against the QMJHL-champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the Memorial Cup finale Sunday.
But early on Thursday, it looked liked the semifinal contest would be a rematch of the OHL final between Owen Sound and Mississauga, which the Attack won in seven games.
Despite playing without star forward Joey Hishon and captain Garrett Wilson due to injuries and Scott Stajcer getting the surprising start ahead of Jordan Binnington in goal, Owen Sound outplayed a lethargic Ice squad and led 2-0 after the first. With his team’s season hanging in the balance, Kootenay rookie head coach Kris Knoblauch didn’t mince words in between periods.
”I don’t have enough money to say what was said in there for fines but he sent a message and it came across loud and clear,“ Fraser said. ”We certainly knew it wasn’t acceptable for us.”
Knoblauch said his message was a simple one.
“I just wanted them to play with more emotion,” Knoblauch said. “We thought the game was going to be easy because they had some good hockey players out of their lineup.
“When they made the goaltending change I think our players were reading too much in to that. I think we found out Owen Sound wasn’t going anywhere and even though they were missing their two best players they were still a very good hockey team. I think we realized we had to work an awful lot harder after that first period.”
Joe Antilla and Max Reinhart each had a goal and an assist for Kootenay (2-2). Erik Benoit also scored.
Cameron Brace, Jarrod Maidens and Mike Halmo replied for Owen Sound (1-3), whose only win was a 5-0 decision over Kootenay in its tournament opener.
Wilson missed the game with concussion-like symptoms suffered after being hit by Mississauga’s Chris DeSousa in the Majors’ 3-1 win Wednesday. Hishon hasn’t played since being elbowed in the head by Kootenay captain Brayden McNabb in the Attack’s tournament opener.
McNabb received a one-game suspension for that incident. The Attack requested the hit on Wilson be reviewed for supplemental discipline but it was denied Thursday afternoon.
Attack head coach Mark Reeds also rolled the dice in goal, surprisingly giving Stajcer his first tournament action after Binnington started the club’s first three games. Then again, it was a calculated gamble as Owen Sound played three goalies — Michael Zador was the other — in the OHL final and came in having lost two straight.
But Stajcer was lifted for Binnington after Reinhart’s short-handed goal put Kootenay ahead 6-2 at 4:59 of the third. He stopped 25 shots.
“Everyone is going to ask the question about the goaltending change but knowing my team I got the response I was looking for in the first period,” Reeds said. “We talked about the goals they score shorthanded and two tonight really broke our back.
“I give (the Ice) full marks for the game they played.”
Reeds said the Attack really felt the absence of Wilson and Hishon after falling behind.
“Those are two guys you’re looking for to set the tone, they’re the two players who’ve set the tone for us all year and they’re not there to create a response,” Reeds said. “Those are two guys who log a lot of ice time and are obviously premiere players.”
The Ice still faces an uphill battle to win this event. Kootenay started the tournament 0-2 and only once has a club rallied from that deficit to win the tournament. But the Windsor Spitfires captured that historic title just two years ago.
“The comparison is because they won,” Knoblauch said of the Spitfires. “But we’ve been underdogs right from the first round of the playoffs.”
Brace wasted little time opening the scoring, beating Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen at 7:12 of the first. After killing a two-man power play late in the period, the Attack went ahead 2-0 on Maidens’ goal at 18:45.
Kootenay rallied in the second, pulling to within 2-1 on Benoit’s goal at 7:48 after Owen Sound had two glorious scoring chances while shorthanded.
After drawing an assist on Benoit’s goal, Antilla converted a 2-on-1 while shorthanded, beating Stajcer with a wrist shot to the top corner just 13 seconds later.
Fraser scored his third of the tournament on the power play, firing a high wrist shot to the top corner past Stajcer at 11:14.
Kootenay continued its offensive onslaught early in the third as goals by Fraser (power play), Eakin and Reinhart (shorthanded) boosted the Ice’s lead to 6-2 by 4:59. Halmo’s power-play goal at 5:37 pulled Owen Sound to within 6-3.
Eakin rounded out the scoring into an empty net at 17:28, the last of Kootenay’s four third-period goals.