As published on page B1/B4 on April 19, 2003
Dream season over for T-Cats
DUNDAS, Ont. - The Dundas dream is over for the Lancaster Aquarius ThunderCats.
Alberta's Stony Plain Eagles scored all of their goals in the third period as they blanked the T-Cats 3-0 in the Allan Cup semifinal Friday night at the Grightmire Arena.
"It hurts," said Lancaster head coach Gordie Craft, "because, like we've said, we really believed that we could play with all these teams. We've got nothing to hang our heads about, that's for sure. We're very proud of all the guys in that room that wore our jersey, and we thank them very much."
Rob Sklaruk, Dan Leckelt and Scott French were the marksmen for the Eagles who have landed in tonight's Allan Cup final where they will take on the Ile des Chenes (Man.) North Stars at 8:30 p.m. (ADT).
"It hurts a lot," said Lancaster captain Joel Cousins, standing dejectedly outside the dressing room.
"We really came a long way in a short time, a bunch of guys spread out all over the Maritimes. We were able to bond and gel quickly."
With the game scoreless through 40 minutes, the Eagles finally got to Lancaster goalie Frank LeBlanc on the power play in the fateful final frame.
With T-Cats defenceman Neil Fewster in the box for boarding, the puck came to Sklaruk in the slot and he made no mistake, roofing a shot past LeBlanc at 3:41. It was Stony Plain's seventh power play of the evening.
"We were right there, zero-zero going into the third period, one period away from going to the final," Cousins said.
The T-Cats nearly tied it when Danny White, after some shifty moves at the Stony Plain line, dropped the puck to Wes Jarvis who waltzed in, only to be stymied by Stony Plain goalie Ryan Hoople. The former Cincinnati Mighty Duck made 29 saves for the shutout.
Stony Plain doubled its advantage at 5:56. A loose puck found its way to Leckelt in the slot and he blasted it past a helpless LeBlanc. The Eagles drained the drama from the building at 13:58. Marshall Kronewitt roared up the right side, cut to the slot and crashed the crease. With LeBlanc down and out as a result of the impact, French followed up and casually flipped the puck into the back of the net.
"We've been in these overtime and third-period situations where one goal means a whole lot," Cousins said. "We've always persevered. Losing tonight hurts as much as it possibly can; I don't know how to describe it."
Despite the absence of the host Dundas Real McCoys - who were eliminated by Lancaster on Thursday night - the game attracted a solid crowd, including ubiquitous Winnipeg Free Press columnist Scott Taylor.
"We got beat by a very good team tonight, a very solid team," Craft said. "They shut us down."
The teams battled through a scoreless opening period, which lacked flow due to a parade of penalties from referee Scott Hutchinson.
Each team did have some chances, however. Stony Plain actually scored a goal on the power play, but it was immediately waved off by Hutchinson. After a point shot was deflected by a high stick, it came to rest just outside the crease. Mike Tavaroli promptly pushed it into the net, but Hutchinson correctly disallowed the tally, much to the dismay of the Eagles.
LeBlanc's best stop was a trapper save on Tate Locke's drive off the rush on the right wing. The force of the shot sent LeBlanc tumbling backward.
Hoople came up big on Kevin Baker, who had consecutive opportunities from close range.
Lancaster's penalty-killing unit was effective for the most part, and it certainly needed to be. The T-Cats were shorthanded six times through the first 40 minutes while they enjoyed just three power-play opportunities. Their penchant for penalties would catch up to them in the third.
During the second period, while Lancaster was enjoying the extra man, there was a wild scramble in front of the Stony Plain net. With arms and legs flailing about, Cousins was unable to find the puck in the sea of humanity.
"It was just a battle," Craft said. "Both teams played very good defensively and just waited for a bounce. They got one on the power play. We give credit to Stony Plain."
Midway through the period, Trent Pankewicz had a partial break but LeBlanc made the save. Later, Lancaster's Denis Aucoin burst into the Stony Plain end, but was foiled on a backhander.
Keeping the puck on a two-on-one, White fired wide on a rare odd-man rush during what was a conservatively-played second period.
Lancaster had defeated the Eagles 6-4 in their previous meeting during the round robin. The T-Cats ended up with a record of two wins and two losses in their four tournament tilts.
"We didn't get it done today, although we're very proud of our guys," Craft said. "Eleven games is all we played together. We beat a couple of big teams up here."
Meantime, the Southern New Brunswick Senior Hockey League final between Lancaster and the River Valley Home Hardware Rock resumes Thursday night at 8:30 at the River Valley Community Centre in Grand Bay-Westfield. The Rock lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
"For the local guys on our team, we've got to get back to work," Cousins said. "We've still got a series to play in Saint John. We're going to give everything we have to that. When that's over, maybe a week or two or a couple of months after that, we'll be able to reflect on what's happened here, and appreciate the experience that we had. But at this moment right now, this hurts a lot."