The Winterhawks fired the opening salvo in what promises to be an entertaining and spirited series with the Durham Thundercats, capturing Game 1 of the opening series by a 6-4 score on Friday.
Despite the best attempts of the referees, the two teams still managed to play some extremely entertaining hockey sandwiched between bad calls and some that were inexplicable.
Andy Fracz opened the scoring five minutes into the game with a power play goal followed 30 seconds later by a goal by James McHaig who played one of his best games of the season.
The Thundercats bounced back quickly capitalizing on a bad bounce off the end boards that Brandon Reay deposited behind Hawks goalie Blake Sinclair.
The second Durham goal was power play marker after a questionable Too Many Men on the Ice penalty and a tripping call to Greg Thede. The Hawks almost killed it off despite defenceman Jacob Brown playing without a stick until Jim Hutchinson scored with seconds remaining in the power play.
The Thundercats scored on a power play early in the second on another call that had fans howling in disbelief.
It was the Winterhawks fourth line that scored the biggest goal of the night as Mike Johnstone capped off a lot of hard work, forechecking and hustle from he and linemates Jay Thomson and Brendon Haefling to tie it 3-3.
Theo Peckham handed out a devastating but clean hit on Durham’s Kyler Nixon but was penalized for a high stick despite the fact his stick never left the ice. Replays later showed that Nixon was struck by his own stick.
Alex Kuntz put the Hawks ahead 4-3 when he squeezed a shot between Gatlin Burt’s pad and the post with four minutes left in the second.
Durham’s Chris Brown scored a shorthanded goal with 35 seconds left in the second to send the two teams to their dressing rooms tied 4-4.
It didn’t stay tied for long as Curtis Johnston scored 26 seconds into the third with assists to Kuntz and Bryan Kazarian.
The end-to-end hockey of the first two periods was replaced by a defensive battle in the third although a little excitement emerged when Brent MacDermid was awarded a penalty shot midway through the period but was turned aside by Burt.
Curtis Johnston scored on an empty net to seal the game and setting the stage for Game 2 which goes next Friday in Durham. Game three is Saturday, Feb. 11 in Port Elgin at 7:30 p.m.