NIAGARA 2, GLANBROOK 1
NIAGARA FALLS (Mar. 29) — A game that started out as a damp squib burst into a fiery finish as the Glanbrook Rangers pulled out all the stops, but fell just short in a 2-1 loss to the Niagara RiverHawks.
The Rangers, hoping to take a stranglehold 3-0 lead in their Bloomfield Division semifinal, came out a bit flat and saw the Hawks narrow their series margin to two games to one. Not that the hosts were any more dynamic than the Rangers in this contest. Oh, both teams had chances. In fact, for the first 46 minutes of play, the main question was which goaltender’s armour would be the first to crack. Tiago Rocha, making his third straight start for the Rangers, and Bryce Frechette, the Hawks’ Game 1 starter who was back between the pipes after his team got blown out in Game 2, took turns in the spotlight.
But notwithstanding the steady play of the opposing netminders, there was still a sense that something was just off kilter. Perhaps it was some leftover lethargy from the four-day break caused by the cancellation of the original Game 3 (slated for last Sunday, but postponed because of a power outage at Glanbrook Arena). But it seemed that for every chance, there were many more that just didn’t pan out, through a lack of effort, sloppy execution, bad decision-making, you name it. And it was strange that on such a large ice surface, there seemed precious little room to manoeuvre.
“They did a good job of taking the boards away from us,” said Rangers’ coach Andrew Tait. “But we weren’t making the right reads. At the end of the day, we just didn’t play well enough to win. We played well enough to hang around. Was it our best game? No. Was it our worst game? No. It was just one of those games where our nervous energy got the better of us.”
And when you’re not The decisive moment — and the catalyst for what was to follow — came at the 6:00 minute mark of the third period when Niagara’s Trevor Snyder fluffed what appeared to be a harmless backhander toward the Glanbrook net that somehow found its way through a crowd and past Rocha to put the RiverHawks up 1-0.
“It was a backhand, hard to judge,” said Tait. “Rochs was probably expecting a harder shot and got one of those tricklers that just found a spot.”
That little spark seemed to energize both teams and the pace picked up noticeably. The Rangers, in particular, turned up the intensity and managed to deadlock the game. After some very desperate effort, Eric Bridgwater was able to corral a loose puck in front of Frechette, lift a backhand shot through a gap in his pads and touch off a raucous Ranger celebration with just over five minutes to go in the third period.
But the relief didn’t last long as fickle fate intervened again in the RiverHawks’ favour. Just about a minute later, the Rangers failed to clear their zone and as the puck flipped up into the air off a rebound, Niagara’s Keagan Thomson flailed at it with his stick and smacked it past Rocha for what proved to be the winning tally.
“Yeah, that was a nice goal for them to win it,” said Tait. “But nine times out of 10, that doesn’t happen.”
The Rangers once again set about the task of trying to mount a rally, and came very close on several occasions. They threw everything they had at Frechette, crashing the net to try to jam the equalizer home. Once, the puck lay uncovered, tantalizingly close to the goal line, but no Ranger was able to grapple through the crush of bodies in the goalmouth to get a stick free to nudge it the rest of the way before Frechette smothered it.
The Rangers were given a golden opportunity with just about two minutes remaining when Niagara defenceman Oly Styliano clobbered Glanbrook captain Sean Golebiowski (who didn’t have the puck and was nowhere near the play) with a monster hit and took an interference penalty. Golebiowski has been an irritant throughout this series to the RiverHawks, who make no secret about their disdain for the lanky forward and rarely forego an opportunity to inflict abuse on him during play, after the whistle, in the faceoff circle, on the way to the bench … wherever. Golebiowski, for his part, tries to ruffle RiverHawk feathers whenever he can, especially in front of the net and along the boards.
But they just couldn’t pull it off and now return home to try and regain the momentum in the series with a pair of games at Glanbrook Arena.
NOTES: Glanbrook defenceman Tyler Mulholland was assessed an attempt to injure penalty at the 19:56 mark of the third period and will face a multi-game suspension … Apart from the fireworks at the end, it was a relatively tame game with both teams going 0-for-2 on the power play.