Eagles Come from Behind in Final Seconds, Take Game 1 of Conference Final

Article by I. Schoonderbeek/Media by C. Archer & N. Schoonderbeek

The Clarington Eagles took a 1-0 lead in their best of seven eastern conference final series Thursday night at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex, defeating the Port Hope Panthers 6-5. A wild third period saw the lead change twice in the final 27 seconds of the contest, with the go-ahead marker coming with only two seconds remaining.

Cole Williamson’s game-winning goal with 2 seconds left:

The contest did not start out the way the Eagles had hoped. The Panthers jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the first period, necessitating a time-out by Eagles’ coach Dean Baumhauer to settle his troops.

Whatever message Baumhauer conveyed on the bench seemed to have the desired effect. Clarington narrowed the margin to 2-1 less than a minute after the time-out when captain Dawson Manning centered the puck to Nate Stirling from behind the Panthers’ net for a tap-in goal. Kolby Poulin would even the score at two in the final minute of the first from Owen Manarin and Connor Davies.

Port Hope took advantage of some confusion in defensive zone coverage to restore their lead in the middle frame to carry a 3-2 lead into the third.

The third period is when things started to get interesting.

Manning found himself in alone behind the Port Hope defense four minutes into the final frame and demonstrated the hands that made him one of the highest-scoring players in the entire PJHL this season. The captain streaked across the front of the goal and tucked a pretty backhand effort past the Panthers’ netminder to tie the game up at 3-3.

Just past the 13-minute mark, Brady Darrach gave the Eagles their first lead of the game. Darrach took a pass off the side boards and curled to the slot before unleashing a blistering drive high over the goaltender’s glove.

The Eagles seemed to have the game in hand as time wound down. Then, with just over two minutes left in the third, a deflected point shot found its way through Jude Rondina in the Clarington goal to tie the score up once again at four.

Overtime appeared to be on the horizon for the two clubs, but with 27 seconds to play Port Hope struck again. Once again, the Panthers took advantage of traffic in front of the Clarington net, scoring on a far-side shot through a screen and over the left pad of Rondina.

The Panthers’ bench called a timeout after the goal, presumably to reinforce their game plan to protect their lead over the final 27 seconds of the contest. However, the extra break also afforded the Eagles the opportunity to have their best offensive weapons rested and on the ice.

Off the ensuing faceoff, Ryan Hall took a pass from Cole Williamson in the Eagles’ zone and proceeded to skate end-to-end through the entire Panthers’ team before roofing a shot over the goaltender’s glove. The electrifying effort had the 841 fans in attendance in a frenzy. “There wasn’t much time left and I knew something had to get done,” said Hall. “I saw an opening and I took it. I just tried to do whatever I could to score.”

“Hallzy is the kind of guy who can do that whenever he wants to,” said Manning. “When he decides he’s going to skate the puck, no one’s catching him. He’s got some of the best wheels in the league!”

With only twelve seconds remaining, the game once again appeared headed towards overtime. But the Eagles had other ideas.

With one final rush as the remaining seconds ticked away, the Eagles entered the Port Hope zone. Connor Davies centered a pass to Williamson who had joined the play. The defenseman’s first effort was wide of the goal, but he stayed on the puck and buried the rebound off the end boards with only two seconds left in the game to secure the victory.

“What a game!” said Baumhauer afterward. “Going into the third, I didn’t think we had won a period. I thought that our third was good, but we just had a couple of breakdowns that ended up in the back of our net. “

Baumhauer noted that Port Hope’s decision to call a time-out in the final minute was a turning point. “I liked that they called the time-out after the go-ahead goal,” said Dean. “We had already used ours up in the first, so them calling it with 27 seconds to play allowed us to regroup and get the right guys on the ice.”

While acknowledging the game was far from one of the Eagles’ best efforts, Baumhauer was looking at the positives. “We haven’t trailed by a goal with two minutes to play in a hockey game this year, so that was new ground for us. We obviously have some stuff we need to sharpen up on defensively, but that’s a hell of a win. It’s a win that kicks them in the balls and gives us more confidence. Our guys know we’re in a series now. We know they’re not going to go away by any means.”

The captain agreed with his coach’s assessment of the team’s play. “Tonight wasn’t one of our best games, but we were battling out there,” said Manning. “It’s huge to get the win knowing we play three of the next four games in their barn. Now we’ve got to keep it going.”

The Eagles travel to Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope Saturday for game two at 7:30 p.m. They return home to Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex for game three on Sunday at 4:25 p.m.