Image courtesy of Twitter.com/Alliance_Hockey
When the dust settled after an incredible winner take all game at RIM Park Sunday night, the Waterloo Wolves claimed the 2015/16 Minor Midget Alliance Championship, their third straight title at the age group.
There were many questions heading into the final game of the series. London had looked dominant in game 5 behind stellar play from Jukka Schotter in goal. The Wolves were the walking wounded. Mitch Hoelscher, Mason McMahon, Liam Hartman and Evan Kula were all banged up and the Wolves were unaware whether some or any of them would suit up. In the end, Hoelscher and Kula would play and Waterloo would bring up Bantam players Keean Washkurak and Callan Christner.
The physical tone of the series reached a peak in game 6 with many players getting into heated battles. Some of the standout ones were Mason Hardy and Joel Mazzilli going back and forth along with Eric Guest and Alex Gritz having some moments along the boards. Early on in this one, the goaltenders were stealing the show. Both Schotter and Nathan Torchia was tasked with making some big saves in order to keep the game scoreless. The save that stands out the most was Schotter absolutely robbing Chris Playfair on a shorthanded breakaway with his right pad.
Torchia was giving up some big rebounds for the majority of this game, something I haven’t personally seen from him all season. With that said, the Wolves defense was doing a stellar job of clearing the rebounds out of the zone or into the corners.
Special teams was the story of the game and it was Waterloo who struck first on the powerplay with the defense doing the work. Tyler McBay glided along the blue line and fed the puck to Tristan De Jong, who wired it home from the top of the circle to break the scoreless tie and give Waterloo the 1-0 lead.
While Waterloo had the lead, the Jr. Knights were consistently attacking. At one point, a shot bounced off of Torchia and almost slid into the bottom corner, but McBay swiped it away, only for Eric Guest to grabbed it and wire a slap shot that Torchia just got a piece of his glove on.
The Wolves found themselves in penalty trouble late in the 2nd period as both Justin Zuber and Hardy took penalties about 20 seconds apart to give London a 5-on-3 advantage. Early in the powerplay, some slick work behind the net gave Joel Mazzilli the chance for the wraparound to tie the game at one goal a piece. Mazzilli was one player who had a slow start to the series, but really picked up his play in the final two games of the series.
A weird sequence early in the 3rd period would give London the lead as a Sammy Stanton point shot seemingly deflected off every player on the ice only to find its way trickling behind Torchia. Parker Varnai thought he had cleared the puck just before it went over the goal line, but the referee disagreed and gave the goal to London and giving them a 2-1 lead with 14 or so minutes to play.
Following the go ahead goal, London did exactly what it had done in the third period of game 5 and pinned Waterloo in their own zone for three straight minutes, gathering numerous scoring chances. A goal for London there could have changed the fortunes for this game, but they couldn’t capitalize and another Jr. Knight penalty would be costly.
Mitch Hoelshcer, who did not look 100% at times during the game, picked up a nice rebound on the powerplay and made no mistake about it to tie the game at two, with ten minutes to go in regulation.
Following the penalty to London that tied the game up, the refs seemingly put their whistles away for the evening and let the guys play it out for the championship. It was with 7:30 minutes remaining that the Wolves would put up what would eventually be the championship winning goal.
Attempting to regroup in their own zone, Eric Guest was carrying the puck but was being hounded by Alex Gritz, who just wouldn’t let him do what he’s done to so many players throughout the season. Gritz would then strip Guest of the puck and in a split second, snap the puck top corner on Schotter with the go-ahead goal that sent the RIM Park crowd into a frenzy.
The final minutes of the game saw more pressure from the Wolves, including a disallowed goal due to the net coming off its bearings. London would also put pressure on Torchia, who made some incredible saves, none bigger than a fantastic individual effort from Guest, who was playing the most determined hockey I’ve seen from him this season.
With the net pulled, London just wasn’t able to set up their skaters to get any quality chances and when the clock struck 0, the Waterloo Wolves had won yet another Alliance Championship in an absolutely fantastic game.
The series saw great play from multiple players on both sides. For Waterloo, Mitch Hoelscher and Chris Playfair were the two who stood out the most from the rest. There was also some solid play by Spencer Kersten, Cam Hyjek and Parker Casey.
London was led by Eric Guest who clearly showed why he is being talked about as a 1st round pick in the upcoming OHL Draft. Along with Guest, players like Kyle Fisher, Blake McConnell-Barker and Jukka Schotter shined in my eyes.
While their Alliance season may have come to an end, both teams will now make the trek to Toronto for the OHL Cup. Both teams went deep last season with London losing out in the semi-finals. The way these two teams played over the past six games, don’t be shocked to see both of them playing on Saturday in the quarter-finals of that tournament.