The Saugeen Shores Winterhawks battled back from a 3-0 deficit, but ultimately fell 5-4 to the Durham Thundercats in Game 1 of their WOAA Sr. “AA” quarterfinal series.
Both teams opened the game with end-to-end action, much to the delight of the large crowd on hand in Durham.
Richard Harris got the start in goal in place of Jeff Flagler, who is mourning the loss of his father Jack Flagler, who passed away on Wednesday.
Harris made some big saves early on, turning away several Durham chances.
The flow came to an abrupt halt as the referees got in on the action with several highly questionable calls.
First, James McHaig missed a check on a Durham defender, but was called for kneeing, resulting in Durham’s #1-ranked power play going to work.
Chris Brown was able to get open and he wired a wrist shot past Harris to open the scoring at 7:33.
Seconds later, Miles MacLean was whistled for slashing, and again Durham struck on the power play, as a Bill Terpstra point shot appeared to be re-directed in front and past Harris.
The whistles came out again just 17-seconds later when a scrum behind the Winterhawks net resulted in Justin Ainslie getting called for roughing, but this time, the Winterhawks killed off the penalty.
Durham went up 3-0 at 14:01, when a wild scramble in front saw Brown corral the puck off the boards and past a helpless Harris.
The Winterhawks answered right back, however, with Bryan Kazarian picking up a rebound off a Chris Minard shot to make it 3-1 at 14:40.
Less than two minutes later, Brent MacDermid would make it 3-2 when he fanned on a Greg Thede pass at the side of the net, but had some luck on his side as the puck struck his skate and deflected into the net past Durham netminder Gatlin Burt.
The two heated rivals got into it at the end of the 1st period, with Trent Hawke and a Durham player getting into a verbal joust as the two teams were headed off the ice, but only Hawke received a 10-minute misconduct.
The Winterhawks continued to battle early in the 2nd as Kazarian notched his second of the night 31-seconds into the period, picking up a rebound and beating Burt to tie things up at 3-3, with assists to Minard and Josh Hopkin.
The Winterhawks would take the lead at 12:47 when Lauchlin Elder found himself all alone in front of Burt, and he took a pass from Miles MacLean to make it a 4-3 game for the visitors, with Ainslie also picking up an assist.
Durham would get it back late in the period, once again on the power play, as Jim Hutchinson knocked a rebound past Harris during a goalmouth scramble to make it 4-4 after 40 minutes.
In a game where two highly talented teams were trading chances and each end, it was the officials that decided this one.
The Winterhawks managed to kill off an early goaltender interference penalty to Andy Fracz, in which contact appeared to be initiated by Burt, but four minutes later, the officials delivered the dagger.
MacDermid was called for goaltender interference when once again, it appeared Burt initiated contact, while MacLean was called for a mysterious slashing call on the same play, putting the Winterhawks down five-on-three for a full two-minutes.
Harris and the penalty killers put on a valiant display, but with 34-seconds left in the penalties, Justin Graham scored the inevitable goal, giving Durham a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish.
“It’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about it, taking two goaltender interference penalties when I don’t think we deserved either one,” said Head Coach Jim Grieve. “That’s tough to take.”
Harris made 38 saves and won the praise of his coach in the process.
“He gave us a chance to win tonight and that’s all we can ask of him,” said Grieve. “He made some big saves for us, I’m very happy.”
Durham leads the best-of-seven series 1-0, but the Winterhawks now have the chance to come home to their own barn, as the series moves to The Plex tonight [Saturday] for Game 2.
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.