CALEDONIA - The McDonald’s Independent Grocer ‘BB’ Atoms may have found that out that the last game in a playoff series is the hardest one to win.
The Rock out-scored Caledonia 18-2 in the first games, but needed a pair of third-period goals to claim a 4-3 victory over the Thunder here Sunday afternoon.
The win gave John Bolton’s squad the best-of-five OMHA quarter-final series three games to none, and a berth in the provincial semi-finals against either Acton or Pelham.
Acton won the first two games of their quarter-final series, both by 5-4 results. One of the games apparently went to overtime.
Thunder go out fighting
In Sunday’s Game 3, Caledonia gave St. Marys a battle for the full 40 minutes. The Thunder opened up an early 2-0 lead, before Eric Taylor got the visitors on the scoreboard with 4:22 left in the opening frame.
Jacob Wiles tied it 2-2 at 1:02 of the second, but Thunder regained the lead just over a minute later.
It stayed that way until Wiles tied it again (3-3), at 5:37 of the third. Defenceman Owen Hartman fired the winner with 6:03 remaining in the game. Sam Bolton assisted.
“It was a little different game today,” coach Bolton reported. “They came out really hard and out-worked us for probably three-quarters of the game.
“We were happy to get the win, but lucky to get the win. It’s a series that we were going to win eventually, but we didn’t want to play another game after today.”
Bolton wasn’t surprised Caledonia gave his team a hard-fought battle Sunday.
“They had their backs up against the wall,” he said. “And our guys were pretty confident going into the game, maybe a little too confident. And we knew that was going to be a problem. The only lead we had was when we went ahead 4-3.”
Game 2 lopsided affair
In Game 2 Saturday afternoon at the PRC, the Grocer Atoms pumped in four goals in the last three minutes of the first period. The outburst gave the Rock a commanding 5-0 advantage, and then they cruised to an easy 12-2 victory over the Thunder.
After St. Marys extended its lead to 9-2 by the end of the second period, winger Matt Payette added a third-period hat trick to complete the scoring. Payette also earned an assist for a four-point game.
Defenceman Sam Bolton added a pair of goals to the Rock’s well-balanced scoring attack. Eric Taylor clicked for a goal and three assists, while the other singles came off the sticks of Ally Muir, Blake Boreham, Curtis Topp, Lake Taylor, Owen Hartman and Jacob Wiles. Devin Johnston picked up a pair of assists.
One of the Caledonia goals was a shorthanded marker.
Goalie Jake Bryans wasn’t tested often, but made a couple of difficult stops when called upon.
“We have a talented team,” coach Bolton replied when asked why his team has been so dominant in the series. “We have a good bunch of kids who are really coachable and they really listen and they work hard. It shows on the ice.
“If we put the puck low, we dominate. Our forecheck is tenacious. Once we get the puck down low in their end, we just seem to rule the corners. We’ve been really good at that,” Bolton added.
Team jumps on Caledonia
In the opener last Wednesday night in Caledonia, the Independent Grocer Atoms started the series with a bang.
Centre Curtis Topp fired three first-period goals and the Rock went on to post a decisive 6-0 victory. Topp also earned two assists for a five-point outing.
Eric Taylor added a pair of goals, with Blake Boreham supplying the single. Jake Bryans recorded his second straight shutout in the post-season.
“It was one of those games where we came out of the gates pretty hard,” coach Bolton reported.
“You never know how your team’s going to come out after winning a (previous) series. You don’t know if they’re going to come out flat. We were worried about that because beating Dorchester (in the previous round) is a big thing for our guys. We don’t beat Dorchester very often, and it’s a big thing.
“But our guys came out and put the puck in the net in the second shift. Right from the drop of the puck, our guys were going. Strathroy did the same thing to us at (Regional) Silver Stick; they put us back on our heels. They did that for the first three shifts and we never recovered.
“If you can get that momentum going, the game is in your favour,” Bolton added.
St. Marys led 3-0 after the first period, and 5-0 going into the third.