As the weeks progress on Tuesday night inline hockey at Kings Sports Centre, the Burger King Gamebirds continue to soar.
Burger King had all their heavy hitters on the roster to battle a Cayman Hot Sauce Flames team with thin numbers on the bench.
First glance indicated this was going to be soul-destroying night for the Flames. The first three minutes of play adhered to the expectations with the Flames unable to coral loose pucks and avoid unforced turnovers. However, within the Flames’ dark room, light began to emerge from a most unlikely line combination: two of the youngest players in Jean Louis Beaudet and Jagger Hope.
Beaudet, with a burst of speed along the right side realizing his options were becoming thin from the Gamebirds’ solid defence, slipped the puck across to Hope, with his stick on the ice, forcing it towards a somewhat surprised goalie Randy Cannon. This would be the first of many plays between the two, showing energy and a chemistry very close to producing real goals that must have been refreshing for a Flames team struggling with success the first half of the season.
“I liked that combination” said Beaudet afterwards, who until now, hasn’t really found anyone with which to share the puck.
Flames goalie Jeremy Olynik may have expected facing the wrong side of a shooting gallery, but 26 shots at halftime might have been more than he bargained for.
With a strong effort and good chances from both teams, it wouldn’t be until 1:44 remaining in the half that the Gamebirds’ Pete Holowchuk found Jeremy Hadley with a cross ice pass for the opening goal. With another from the Birds’ Rich Hastings two seconds from the buzzer, Hot Sauce entered the break deflated.
With two in quick succession, the momentum had swung the Gamebirds way. It would have been 3-0 30 seconds into the next half, except for a stretch glove save, while doing the splits, by Olynik. The Gamebirds were finding their stride, headlined by Holowchuk dancing around the net with the puck on a string. Holowchuk’s creativity to date hadn’t been as visual as in former years and likely due to returning from an injury which kept him out for a season.
Curtis Appleyard would get the game-winning goal with Colin Wilson adding another from a miscued shot bobbling through the Flames defence and past Olynik. Despite a late Flames surge, following an Appleyard penalty, the Gamebirds would retain their lead atop of the table winning 4-2. Three Stars: Pete Holowchuk, Randy Cannon (.920 save percentage) and Jeremy Olynik (52 shots faced and a .923 save percentage).
The Deloitte Sharks and Mepco High Rollers needed points to stay within contention of the Gamebirds and both teams played like much was at stake. Things weren’t looking good for the Sharks, however, when Joe Jewitt went hard into boards and remained on the rink while play continued.
Jewitt would be helped off, returning later with his contribution seemingly affected, except for establishing an unwritten code to Mepco’s Patrick Agemian when around his goalie. It was a heated but respected hockey exchange and the type that fuels a team’s desire for success.
Despite an early post by Mepco’s Agemian and then Jeff Danter scoring shortly after, the Rollers were concerned by the Sharks’ strong will for driving deep to the net with the puck. They had every right to worry when shortly after the Sharks’ Dan Etherington carried the puck from deep, evading Mepco’s fore check and then scoring while team-mate Tim Derksen worked off a threatening Darryl Hather.
All three were on their game, especially Hather, who with only two shots on goal was making big contributions elsewhere. With the Sharks offensive effort only getting 27 shots, it was Hather’s shot-blocking grit that gave an untrue reflection of the numbers. Not being a slight man, Hather’s presence in itself, as well as his great positioning, removes opportune scoring chances.
Nevertheless, the goals would add up on both sides as Mepco’s Mark Missal made a two-goal contribution alongside Danter. Sharks’ elder statesman Tim Courtis would counter with a score.
The game was tight and the intensity high, with the scoreboard showing five goals for each team with under five minutes to go. Mepco’s Scott Somerville would score, creating an immediate Sharks time-out. Sharks’ goalie Scott Hughes made a huge save inside of two minutes, further fuelling his team and the momentum was swinging the Sharks way when Mepco’s Missal was called for a penalty with 48 seconds remaining.
Deloitte pulled their goalie, creating a five-on-three advantage and unleashing a flurry of shots to tie the game; with the best chance coming to Etherington, who received a cross crease puck and missed an empty net.
Mepco’s Danter would win the game when sliding across the rink, legs first, blocking a well-targeted shot from Deloitte’s Rintoul as the High Rollers won 6-5. Three Stars: Darryl Hather, Jeff Danter, Derek Bruce.