Pat Payton, Gazette sports editor
Trevor Sauder created a memory that the swift-skating centre will remember for the rest of his life. And many in the crowd of over 1,100, especially Stratford Cullitons’ fans, will cherish it for a long, long time as well.
Sauder, still not 100 per cent as a result of a late-season injury, fired the game winner with just 2:19 left in Game 6 last Friday night at the Allman Arena.
His dramatic shorthanded goal snapped a 2-2 tie and Cullitons went on to down Waterloo Siskins 4-2, and take the best-of-seven Midwestern Conference quarter-final playoff series four games to two.
“It was a great goal,” coach Phil Westman said. “We took a penalty with just over four minutes to play, and Trevor went out to the right point and blocked the shot. The puck bounced to centre ice, and he out-raced their defenceman for the puck.
“Because of his injured shoulder, Trevor can’t shoot forehand so he went to his backhand and up into the top the net. It really woke up the place,” he added with a laugh.
Stratford advances to meet the first-place Caledonia Corvairs in the semi-finals, beginning Thursday in Caledonia. Game 2 is Friday at the Allman, with Game 3 Sunday in Caledonia and Game 4 back in Stratford Monday. All are 7:30 p.m. face-offs.
Stratford 4 - Waterloo 2
Sauder and the Cullitons rallied to win Friday after losing their team captain just 24 hours earlier. Andrew Barton sat out the game, and was also expected to miss Game 7 if the series had returned to Waterloo. Cullitons called up defenceman Ryan Sykes from their Jr. ‘C’ affiliate, the Mitchell Hawks, for Friday’s series finale.
“Everybody stepped up in Barney’s absence,” coach Westman said.
And for the first time in the series, the team that scored first didn’t win.
Siskins’ Ryan Doucette opened the scoring early in the first period with a flukey goal off the end glass. The puck struck the back of goalie Nick Caldwell’s leg and found its way into the net. Jared Culliton, with his fourth of the series, tied it at 13:17.
A powerplay goal by Ryan Watson put Stratford ahead 2-1 at 15:34 of the middle frame. It stayed that way until Waterloo’s Jimmy Soper tied it with a shorthanded goal with just over nine minutes remaining in the third.
“It was real good game, and we out-played them pretty well all night,” Westman said. “But when we took that last penalty, you could just feel the momentum tilting their way a little bit.”
Less than two minutes later, Sauder gave Cullitons their biggest lift of the season to date.
Shane O’Brien--with his team-leading ninth point of the series--sealed Siskins’ fate with an empty-netter with 43 seconds remaining. Defenceman Liam Maaskant picked up his second assist of the night on the goal.
“If it had gone to Game 7, we probably weren’t going to get through,” Westman admitted. “When you have home ice, you have to finish it there.”
Overall, Stratford out-shot Waterloo 38-25.
Waterloo 2 - Stratford 1
For the fifth straight time in the series, the team that scored first won the game. At the Waterloo Rec. Complex Thursday night, Siskins stayed alive with a 2-1 victory in front of approximately 750 spectators.
Compounding the defeat for Cullitons was the loss of Barton. The veteran centre left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury after being hit by Waterloo defenceman Trevor Atkinson.
All the scoring in Game 5 took place early in the third period. After Siskins’ Danny Hanlon broke a scoreless deadlock at 1:10 of the final frame, Cullitons’ Mitch Vandergunst tied it just 45 seconds later.
Matt Cruickshank fired what proved to be the winner at 6:43, beating Caldwell with a screened shot.
It was a hard-hitting affair, with Stratford taking four of the seven minor penalties. Waterloo out-shot the visitors 39-27, including 20-4 in the final 20 minutes.
“Again, it was a real good, back-and-forth game,” Westman reported. “It was just a 2-1 hockey game, and you can’t get too down after those losses, and we didn’t. We just wanted to get fired up for Friday night and take care of business at home, and we did.”
Stratford 3 - Waterloo 1
It was a game-time decision, and it proved be the right decision for both Shane O’Brien and the Cullitons last Wednesday night at the Allman.
Just two nights after being injured late in Monday’s Game 3, O’Brien was back in the Stratford line-up and looked like he hadn’t lost a step. The sophomore winger set up centre Jared
Culliton with what proved to be the winning goal as Cullitons took a 3-1 stranglehold on the series with another 3-1 home-ice victory in front of about 750 spectators.
O’Brien was Stratford’s leading point-getter in the series.
Also bolstering the Cullitons’ line-up was the return of centreman Sauder, who had missed eight consecutive games with an upper-body injury. The little speedster was making his first playoff appearance.
“I thought we were in a desperate situation,” coach Westman pointed out. “It was really a game that we had to win; I didn’t want to go back to Waterloo tied 2-2.”
Cullitons jumped out to a 2-0 lead for the third straight game, and for the fourth straight game Siskins out-shot Stratford, but Cullitons’ goalie Caldwell continued his strong post-season heroics with a 43-save performance.
Waterloo finished with a 44-32 edge in shots, including 18-11 in the second period. Westman said he wasn’t happy with the number of shots his team allowed in the middle frame.
Caldwell allowed just four goals against in the three straight Stratford victories, and the 18-year-old New Liskeard native stopped 127 of 131 shots over that stretch.
After Cullitons’ rookie Ryker Killins opened the scoring early in the first period, with his third of the series, Culliton’s winner came at 5:13 of the middle frame. He put Stratford up 2-0 when he neatly tucked home a behind-the-net centring pass from O’Brien.
Another rookie who continues to impress is Mitch Brooks, and he made it 3-0 just over two minutes later. Danny Hanlon got Siskins on the board less than a minute later, but it’s the only puck they would get behind Caldwell on this night. Late in the period, he denied Waterloo’s Christian Mroczkowski on a breakaway.
Westman added that he’s still concerned with the number of penalties his team is taking in the series. “You can’t be successful this time of year taking that many penalties, especially the cheap, retaliation ones,” he said.
Luckily, Siskins went 0-for-8 with the man advantage.