THUNDER BAY – The Lakehead Thunderwolves opened the playoffs by downing the York Lions 3-2 in a marathon overtime struggle in front of 1,617 fans at the Fort William Gardens on Thursday night.
Game #1 of the OUA West Division quarter-finals featured plenty of end-to-end action and an epic goaltending duel that lasted well over four hours before it was decided.
Things didn’t look so good for the Thunderwolves early on when Josh LaFrance took a feed from the corner and beat Lakehead goalie Nic Renyard five-hole just 39 seconds into the fray.
York came out strong in the first five minutes and Renyard made a couple of key saves to keep the Lions from extending their lead.
It didn’t take long for the Wolves to hit their stride, however, and their momentum grew as the opening period went on.
Sam Schutt evened the score on a Lakehead power play at 10:37, flipping a rebound over York netminder Mack Shields who was sprawled out on the ice after making a good initial save. Daniel Del Paggio and Grant Valiquette were credited with the assists.
The Lions got the only goal of the second period with a power-play goal of their own at 4:41 when Reid Jackman tipped a point shot past Renyard.
Lakehead’s E.J. Faust tied the game at 2-2 early in the third by slamming home a rebound after Shields made a nice save off of Schutt as the Wolves swarmed around the Lions’ cage.
The back and forth continued for the rest of regulation time, but neither side was able to put anything past their opposing goaltenders. Schutt had the best chance of the third period on a breakaway with nine minutes to go, but Shields came up with a huge blocker save.
The first overtime period was a wide-open affair, with both teams looking like they wanted to end it as soon as possible, but neither Renyard nor Shields would yield.
Renyard made a spectacular glove save while he was already down on the ice in the early going to save the day for the Thunderwolves.
At the other end of the ice, Shields stopped Lakehead’s Dylan Butler stone cold on two occasions. The first time was a great pad save on a clear break for Butler, and later on, he robbed him with a glove save after Butler fired a rocket from the slot.
Butler had a third chance with just seconds left on the clock and Shields out of position, but his shot was redirected high over the net by a York defender, and the game continued into a second overtime session.
After four periods of fire-wagon hockey, the pace slowed down considerably in the second overtime. Lakehead put 17 shots on Shields in the frame, but not many were serious scoring threats.
Renyard wasn’t tested as often, but he made a few crucial stops to keep the Wolves’ hopes alive, and the game went into a third overtime period.
Although fatigue was becoming a factor, both sides seemed to get their second wind in the third O.T. Lakehead had some good opportunities on a goalmouth scramble, and Faust just missed the net on a deflection within the first few minutes.
York regrouped with a few good rushes, and Renyard made a heads-up play by snatching the puck out of the air after it caromed off the glass behind him and bounced back in front of the net.
Lakehead’s line of Butler, Brennen Dubchak and Scott Gall – which had been the Wolves’ best unit all night – came through in the end. Just after Gall was stopped after breaking down the left side, the puck wound up behind the net where Dubchak picked it up and quickly fed Butler in the slot. Denied three times earlier, Butler made no mistake and buried it behind Shields to end the game at 10:07 of the sixth period.
Total shots on goal in the game were 76-51 in favor of the Thunderwolves.
For the night, Lakehead went 1-for-8 with the man advantage, while York was 1-for-2.
The Molson Three Stars of the game were:
- Nic Renyard, Lakehead
- Dylan Butler, Lakehead
- Mack Shields, York
The series will now shift to York, where the Wolves will look to finish off the Lions. Game #2 is set for Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m., and if necessary, Game #3 will go Sunday night at the Canlan Ice Sports Arena in North York.