SOUTH MUSKOKA - It’s back to square one for the South Muskoka Shield.
The Gravenhurst team was eliminated from the second round of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League playoffs after a heartbreaking 6-5 defeat on Saturday, March 2 at Bracebridge Memorial Arena. Having lost the first two games of the series to the Bracebridge Phantoms (6-1 and 7-3), Shield general manager Dallyn Telford said his players had entered Saturday’s game knowing it would be a tough fight.
Nonetheless, the narrow defeat was a tough pill to swallow.
“They’re disappointed. There are a lot of teary eyes. We didn’t expect this short of a series in Bracebridge,” he said, outside of the Shield dressing room. ”We thought we played well enough to still be playing. But sometimes you don’t get the bounces, and sometimes the hockey gods frown on you, and they frowned on us tonight. That’s the way hockey goes. It’s a funny game.”
The Shield started off the game with a promising lead, edging ahead with a 2-1 score at the end of the first period. They managed to expand that into a 4-1 lead midway into the second period.
That fourth goal flared tempers between Shield forward Brodie MacDonald and Phantoms defenceman Matt Dickieson, whose ensuing punch-up left Bracebridge shorthanded for five minutes.
Then, with five minutes remaining in the second period, the Phantoms mounted their comeback. Buoyed by a goal from forward Lester Brown at the 5:47 mark, Nemania Vucuveric followed suit with another quick goal during a mad scramble in front of the Shield net.
Gravenhurst’s Andrey Novikov, however, hit back with yet another goal just mere seconds afterwards, bringing the score to 5-3 for the Shield. Brown then retorted with a backhand goal just 31 seconds later, bringing the final score to 5-4 at the end of the second period.
Staring down the barrel of a possible Game 4, the Phantoms hit back hard in the third period. With his fellow Phantoms picking up the pace of their game, forward Charles Williams brought the score to a nail-biting 5-5 at the 11-minute mark. About 30 seconds later, Brown tipped the scales for the Phantoms with a shorthanded goal.
But the Phantoms were far from home free. With 10 minutes to go in the game, they netted two penalties – one for interference and another for taunting. Unable to capitalize on their power plays, the Shield pulled their goaltender in the closing seconds of the game. As the clock ran out, Shield forward Brandon Luksa tried one last shot on net, which proved fruitless.
“The Shield played a great game; they had us on the ropes,” said Phantoms owner Tim Dickieson. “Tonight was a test for sure.”
In the game’s aftermath, Telford extended a special thanks to the Shield’s loyal fans.
“We have a very, very loyal following. We could go to Temiscaming and there would be 50 people there from Gravenhurst,” he said.
Telford said the team won’t be dwelling on the loss for long. He said plans for a new season are already brewing.
“We’ll start recruiting Monday,” he said.