Canadians fail to advance to Winter Games

They played with passion and every ounce of energy they possessed, and in the end the host Fort Frances Canadians were ever so close to forcing a third-and-deciding game of their Midget ‘AA’ Challenge Series.
The Fort William Hurricanes had blown into town Friday night and stormed off with an 8-3 win in the opener of the best-of-three series for a berth at the Ontario Winter Games early next month.
Saturday’s game, however, was far different as the Canadians were on their game right from the drop of the puck—dominating all aspects of play over the first nine minutes.
Devin Ball burst through the middle, only to be tripped up going to the net. David Chambers sent Jordan Sinclair in alone on a breakaway, forcing Hurricane goalie Spencer Malone to come up big.
The line of Matt Goldamer, Kyle Herr, and Ryan Shortreed were relentless in their pursuit of the puck. And Logan Allen and Jamie Kaun were towers of strength on the blueline.
At one point on the power play, the Canadians controlled the puck in the Hurricanes’ zone for 90-straight seconds.
Hockey games are unpredictable at the best of times, though, and despite being outplayed, it was the Hurricanes who opened the scoring with just under six minutes left in the first period.
’Canes centre Jordan Croves won a clean draw to winger Scott Vaillant, who was stationed right behind him at the top of the face-off circle.
Vaillant let rip a laser-like, one-time snap shot that bounced off the far post—blocker side—and past Canadians’ goalie Wes Brown for a 1-0 lead.
The visitors seized momentum at that point. With Kaun just out of the “sin bin” and the Canadians struggling in their own zone, Thunder Bay’s Robert Caul banged home a rebound, assisted by Croves and Len Pelletier, to make it 2-0.
The Hurricanes started quickly in the second period, establishing a three-goal lead at the 12:55 mark (HNO rules dictated the teams play 15-minute periods) as strapping forward Chris Bell pounced on a loose puck and lifted it over a prone Brown for an unassisted tally.
Down 3-0, the Canadians didn’t flinch. With Bell banished to the penalty box, the home side went to work on the power play—and it took just 18 seconds for the Goldamer-Herr-Shortreed unit to strike.
Herr worked the puck to Goldamer, set up on the right-side boards, who then dished a hard pass to Shortreed, who redirected the puck passed Malone to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Then midway through the second period, the Canadians went back to work on the power play and the dynamic trio struck again.
Shortreed battled for possession and chipped the puck over to Herr, who was set up in the corner to the left of Malone. The crafty centre made a picture-perfect pass out front to Goldamer, whose quick release fooled Malone and drew the Canadians to within one.
A number of late-period infractions hampered the focus and offensive games on both sides, although Canadians’ goalie Joe Bodnar (who had come in early in the second frame in place of Brown) made several outstanding saves to keep the ’Canes off the score sheet.
The third period was all heart as both squads, though tired, played a relentless physical game.
Perhaps the best example of the third-period determination was Canadians’ defenceman Jacob Witherspoon (at 5’7” and likely no more than 135-140 pounds) hustling back into his own zone and levelling a big Hurricane player on a breakaway.
It was that kind of period—a flat-out pedal-to-the-floor affair—with the Canadians striving for the equalizer and the Hurricanes hanging on to a slim one-goal lead.
Despite the effort, neither side could score. With Bodnar on the bench in favour of Kaun out to modify Malone’s sightlines, the Canadians could not dent the mesh and Fort William skated home with a 3-2 win victory and a berth in the upcoming Ontario Winter Games in Owen Sound.
The Canadians had suffered through a penalty-filled affair in the opener Friday night, picking up 13 penalties in all while yielding six power-play goals in the 8-3 loss.
The game had started very well for the home side. After Stephen Shaw had set up Alex Porter on the power play for a 1-0 ’Canes lead at the 10:23 mark, the Canadians scored a pair.
First, with just over a minute remaining in the period and the Canadians controlling the puck in the Hurricanes’ zone, Jared Baker unleashed a big slapshot.
The save was made, but Goldamer scooped up the rebound and slid it five-hole to knot the game at 1-1.
Then with only 16 ticks left on the clock, the Canadians struck again as Baker, playing the point on the power play, moved to the middle and fired a low, hard shot glove side that eluded the Thunder Bay goalie for the 2-1 lead.
It was all Hurricanes in the second and third periods, though. Early in the second, Steve St. Jean deposited a high backhander on the power play (assist to Pelletier) to tie the game at 2-2.
That was followed by another power-play marker at the 6:21 mark as Joshua Elvish deflected a pass from Bell (second assist to Brennan Longpre) to give Fort William a 3-2 lead.
The ’Canes closed out the period with another power-play marker. This time it was Vaillant, left alone for a split second out front, beating Bodnar with 2:23 left to push the lead to 4-2 (St. Jean was the set-up man).
The third period featured more of the same as Bell (Elvish), Croves (Matt Grove), Porter (Spencer Smith), and St. Jean (Pelletier) closed out the scoring for Fort William.
The Canadians’ lone third-period marker came off the stick of slick skating winger D.J. Bombay, who tore off like a rocket down the right side of the ice and took a nice head man pass from Dave Chambers at the offensive blueline.
Without breaking stride, Bombay wheeled in and fired a hard wrist shot low to the blocker side.
The shot was to hot to handle. Despite getting a piece of it, the puck trickled passed the Hurricane netminder.