Manning’s Last-Minute Goal Gives Eagles 2-0 Lead in Divisional Final Against Merchants

Article By Sam Laskaris/Photos by Chris Archer

Dawson Manning seemed to be snake bitten for a good chunk of the regular season.

But nobody seems to be talking about that any more. Even Manning’s teammates with the Clarington Eagles can no longer chirp him about his lack of finishing touches around the net these days.

Manning, who had scored 16 goals as a rookie with the Eagles during the 2019-20 campaign, had his share of offensive struggles this year during the regular season, scoring nine goals.

The 20-year-old forward, however, has caught fire in the playoffs. In fact, he scored his ninth post-season goal at the perfect time on Thursday.

Manning netted the winning goal with just 24 seconds remaining in a Provincial Junior Hockey League game as the Eagles defeated the visiting Little Britain Merchants 2-1 in a match held at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex.

With that victory, the Eagles now lead the Merchants 2-0 in their best-of-seven Orr Division championship final series.

“Dawson Manning is one of the most complete players in this league,” said Eagles’ head coach Dean Baumhauer, adding his veteran can play various forward positions, the point during powerplay situations as well as having a solid 200-foot game. “If he’s not our best player then I think he’s 1A.”

Baumhauer also offered his explanation why Manning is now excelling in the post-season.

“He’s a big-game player,” said Baumhauer, who doubles as the Eagles’ general manager. “Good players step up.”

Manning is also pleased he’s finding the scoresheet with more frequency now in the playoffs.

“It feels good to help us out and get on this roll that we’re on now,” said Manning, who has also earned 15 assists and has a team-high 24 points in 11 playoff matches.

Manning’s winning goal came shortly after Baumhauer had called a timeout in the game’s final minute. The bench boss designed a play where right-handed centreman Matt McCullough, who in all likelihood would not have been out on the ice for the draw in the final minute, took the faceoff.

Just as planned, McCullough won the key faceoff and captain Mitch Doyle directed a shot onto the Merchants’ net. Manning scooped up the rebound and fired it into the back of the net.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Manning said. “It landed right on my stick.”

Thursday’s contest was a goaltending battle between Clarington’s Alex Lepizzera and Little Britain’s Oliver Webster. Neither puckstopper allowed a goal during the first two periods.

Eagles’ rookie forward Leyton Aitken opened the scoring in the third minute of the final period, via a pass from Manning.

The Merchants tied the score with just under eight minutes left in the period, setting the stage for Manning’s last-minute heroics.

Aitken believes some of his teammates felt the match would not be decided in regulation time, even as the Eagles’ were plotting their strategy during their timeout.

“I think some of us were thinking it was going to overtime,” Aitken said. “But we knew there was still some time left as well.”

Despite their two-game advantage in the series now, Aitken added the Eagles still have plenty of work ahead of them against a rather formidable foe.

“We have to come out even harder in the next one if we want to win that and then think about starting to close it out,” he said.

Baumhauer added he was thrilled with the work of his entire defensive unit – Doyle, Ethan Schoonderbeek, Carter Watkins, Ty Harris, Nolan Matheson and his son Nate Baumhauer – for keeping the Merchants’ main offensive weapons in check all night.

Little Britain’s Cole Kimble, Braydon Leeking and Riley Girard are three of the top forwards in the league. All three were held pointless on Thursday.

The series will resume on Saturday as the Merchants will host Game 3 at the Little Britain Arena. The opening faceoff will be at 7:30 p.m.

The Eagles will then host Game 4 next Tuesday (Apr. 12). Puck drop for that one is scheduled for 7:50 p.m.


Additional photos by Chris Archer: