It’s rarely a dull affair when the Saugeen Shores Winterhawks and Durham Thundercats meet up and Saturday night’s regular season finale was no exception.
The game saw 12 goals scored and also included a line brawl and goalie fight as Durham came out on top by a score of 7-5.
The game had plenty of implications outside of being a game between two bitter rivals, as the winner was set to clinch 3rd place in the league standings.
The 1st period saw end-to-end action as the teams exchanged chances, with Jeff Flagler coming up huge on several occasions for the Winterhawks.
Saugeen Shores opened the scoring as Chad Schockenmaier pinched in off the point to hold the puck in the Durham zone, knocking the puck to Miles MacLean.
MacLean peeled off the boards and went unchallenged as he walked in and fired a wrist shot past Durham netminder Gatlin Burt.
Durham answered back less than a minute later to tie the game, then went ahead on a strange goal, as Justin Graham fired a centering pass from the corner that struck a skate and redirected between Flagler’s skate and the post, giving Durham a 2-1 lead.
Andy Mitchell evened things up at 1:15 of the 2nd period, after Trent Hawke lead a rush into the Durham zone and a bouncing puck was corralled by Mitchell and he beat Burt to make it 2-2.
Mike Smailes picked a good opportunity to score his first goal of the year at 13:59 of the 2nd, as he walked in off the point and out-waited Burt to give the Winterhawks a 3-2 lead.
Durham answered back late in the period to make it a 3-3 game heading to the 3rd period.
Lauchlin Elder restored the lead again at 3:53 of the 3rd, taking a long pass from Trevor Smith for a two-on-one rush, opting to shoot and beating Burt to make it 4-3.
Again, Durham answered right back as Kyler Nixon skated through the Winterhawks defence and deked out Flagler to knot things up at 4-4 just 40-seconds later.
Durham picked up a power play on questionable call minutes later and Jake Brown snuck a shot through from the point that beat Flagler to give Durham a 5-4 lead.
Things got out of control from there, as Connor Patton was struck hard in the head by the stick of Durham’s Derek Matheson, touching off a line brawl that eventually included a tussle between Flagler and Burt.
Both Burt and Flagler were ejected from the game, with Burt also picking up a gross misconduct when the dust settled.
Eric Peicheff took over in goal for the Winterhawks, and once play resumed, he made several big saves despite coming in cold.
Durham extended their lead to 6-4 at 15:37, with Ben Davis getting loose and firing the puck past Peicheff.
The Winterhawks did not go down easily, as Curtis Johnston made a nice play to outwait the Durham defenders, sliding the puck to the slot to Bryan Kazarian, who tapped it past new Durham netminder Scott Kuglin.
It wasn’t quite enough, as Durham added an empty netter to arrive at a 7-5 final.
The Winterhawks finish the season at 14-7-1 and will finish in 4th place in the WOAA Sr. Hockey League standings.
They will now face the 5th place team in the opening round of the playoffs, which will either be the Petrolia Squires or the Huron East Centenaires. Huron East visits Milverton on Jan. 26th in a game that will determine the final standings, Huron East enters that game one point behind Petrolia for 5th place.
UPDATE: Earlier this week, the WOAA review panel reversed an earlier decision that had stripped the Minto 81’s of seven points in the standings. As a result, Minto had the points returned and will finish in 5th place, facing the Winterhawks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs is tentatively set for Friday, February 1st at 9:00 p.m. at The Plex in Port Elgin, though scheduling will be confirmed.