On Sunday March 2nd, the HP Lakers Major PeeWees closed their Alliance League Championship Semi-Final Series with the Hamilton Reps in style. Entering the weekend, the Lakers had a 4-0 points lead, off two straight wins the weekend before. It's unfortunate, however, that a series so heavily dominated by the Lakers, will remain on our minds because of the transgressions of a few misguided Hamilton Rep players.
Game 3 was in Hamilton Saturday afternoon and immediately took on the flavour of the previous 2 – tight checking with limited, good scoring chances. At the end of regulation, the Lakers held a 21 – 13 edge in shots and, although they certainly had a couple of opportunities during the game to pop a goal or two, the game remained scoreless.
Early in the overtime, the Lakers went on a short-lived power play, as an “equal-up” call was made against the team 25 seconds into the man advantage. Playing 4 on 4, the Lakers had a number of glorious scoring opportunities but were thwarted by the Hamilton goalie who single handedly carried them to Game 4 of the Series. One particular save saw him absolutely rob Carter Strachan who had joined the rush, crashing the net for a rebound off a shot by Matt McCracken. The Lakers ended the overtime with a 6-0 advantage in shots but created a number of parent anxiety attacks in the stands by giving up a Hamilton breakaway with 5 seconds remaining. Fortunately, Joe Metzger, picking up his second shut-out of the Series, challenged the Hamilton shooter, causing him to miss the net with his scoring chance.
Sunday’s game was a must-win for Hamilton as a tie would still have lost them the Series. From the Lakers' perspective, the game was also important, as they did not want to give the Reps any more life than they had acquired in the tie the day before. Had the Reps won, with game 5 then back in Hamilton, all bets would have been off.
The 1st period was a fairly closely checked 10 minutes, with the Lakers holding a slight edge in shots 5-3. They entered the 2nd period however down a goal after Hamilton scored on a 5 on 3 advantage with just 11 seconds remaining in the period. While the team had skillfully killed off over a minute of the 2-man advantage, they fell victim to a point shot nicely tipped in the slot past a helpless Ben Errington.
The 2nd period started off in the Lakers' favour as they went on the power play just over a minute into the period. Just as the Hamilton player came back on the ice and tried to get in the play, Greg Scott (P.J. Conlon) launched a shot from the blue line that dropped down into the top corner of the net, rather surprising the Hamilton goalie!! Less than ½ a minute later, the team went up 2-1 when Cole Ciccone (Iain Donnelly) scored off a nice rush into the Hamilton zone with the team on another power play. With 2 goals so close together the Hamilton goalie left the net, to be replaced by the overtime hero from the day before.
The goalie change gave Hamilton a bit of life as they scored 2 unanswered, even-strength goals to take a 3-2 lead late into the period. Handed another power play, the Lakers scored their 2nd goal of the game off a point shot when Carter Strachan’s (Greg Williams, Ciccone) drive deflected off a Hamilton player into the net, knotting the score at 3 heading into the 3rd period.
The start of the 3rd period gave little indication as to how it might finish. Both teams entered the final 15 minutes knowing what was on the line – the season for Hamilton; a potential momentum shift for the Lakers. Early on, pressure by Hamilton was repelled by a rock-solid Errington in goal. Perhaps frustrated by their inability to reclaim the lead, the Reps started to get into penalty trouble mid-way through the period. Nearly 8 minutes in, the Lakers again made Hamilton pay for undisciplined play when Donnelly (Strachan, Jayden Landry) scored off a hard shot from the point. Less than 90 seconds later, off some hard, down-low work by Mack O’Keefe, Ciccone (O’Keefe, Conlon) tipped a centering pass into the Hamilton net putting the team ahead 5-3.
With just over 1 ½ minutes to play, the rather testy relationship that had developed between the Hamilton Coach and the game’s referee ended with the Hamilton Coach being thrown out of the game. This left just one Coach on the bench to finish the game. The next shift saw things unravel to a level rarely seen in hockey, let alone at a game played by 12 year olds. After a whistle in the Reps zone, one of their bigger defencemen sized up the situation and began running Connor Johnson. To Johnson’s credit, he did not retaliate however the signal had gone out to the Hamilton players that it was time to embarrass their Association. All Hamilton players started taking runs and throwing punches. The Lakers players, while defending themselves, were taken completely by surprise and by the time the situation was again in hand, all players on the ice at the time were told to leave the game.
The aftermath saw a “Travesty of the Game” suspension handed out to a Hamilton player, as well as a 3rd “Player in the Fight” suspension to a second Hamilton player. Ben Kirwin, for doing nothing other than appropriately defending himself against this cowardly attack, was handed a 1-game suspension. All other players were given 10- minute misconducts for failing to proceed to their respective benches when directed to do so by the referee.
Sadly, the activity on the ice was not where this incident ended. As one of the Hamilton parents cheered his players on as they attacked the Lakers players, some of the Lakers supporters took exception to his message!! While it did not escalate, it was a stark reminder of how quickly emotions can lead to situations getting quickly out of hand. The situation on and off the ice was also an important reminder that if we do not treat our opponents with respect, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, our love for the game is quickly replaced by an animosity that benefits no-one.
Lost in the mayhem of Game 4 was the fantastic Series played by our PeeWee Lakers. Over a 4-game span, they scored more goals than they had scored over the previous 12 games! They also began scoring off the power play and, when they didn’t, saw the PP press home the attack. Scoring from the point also soared in this series, something the coaching staff had been looking for all season. The team also developed more confidence coming out of their own zone and saw first hand how down-low pressure in the opposing end can lead to good scoring opportunities. Finally, the team began directing shots at the opposing net in numbers not seen all year.
The team’s next Series, for the Alliance League Championship, will begin shortly against the Windsor Spitfires of the Western Conference. While we have been in tough against the Spitfires this year, a new confidence and swagger was born through the Hamilton Series that should translate well when the team next hits the ice.