by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Natalie Shaver
A series of trips to the penalty box proved fatal for the Soo Greyhounds on Saturday.
The Flint Firebirds scored three power-play goals – two during 5-on-3 situations – in a span of just 4:03 late in the second period.
That turned a 1-0 lead into a 4-0 advantage.
On a night when Hounds winger Tye Kartye suffered a possible broken collarbone on his first shift, the Firebirds went on to score four times with the man advantage, en route to a 7-1 victory before 3,342 at Dort Financial Center. That gave Flint the best-of-seven, Western Conference semifinal series four games to one.
“The second period has been our nemesis all series,” said Hounds head coach John Dean, whose team had beaten Guelph in five games in the conference quarter-finals before being eliminated by Flint. “Once we got ourselves into penalty trouble, it took a lot of wind out of our sails, and the rest of the game speaks for itself.”
Asked if he felt his players showed a lack of discipline at times, Dean spoke of how “maybe emotions got the better of guys. It’s been a tough series in terms of what a call is, and I think our guys got very frustrated with that.”
“Those three quick goals were the determining factor,” agreed star centre Rory Kerins, the OHL’s second-leading scorer in the regular season and a player who appeared to be on the ice for at least half of Saturday’s game. “Lack of discipline from our team and they capitalized.”
After a scoreless opening period, Firebirds defenceman Tyler Deline skated to the top of the left face-off circle and beat Tucker Tynan through traffic to make it 1-0 at the 2:14 mark.
Just over two minutes later, the Firebirds began killing off a 5-on-3 Greyhounds power play that covered a span of 1:40.
That task complete, the home team started its series of three straight man-advantage tallies.
With Luc Brzustowski off for slashing, Gavin Hayes made it 2-0 at 11:21, beating a screened Tynan high to the glove-hand side from the top of the right face-off circle.
Jack Thompson was sent off for cross-checking at 12:52 and Rob Calisti was assessed a high-sticking minor at 13:31.
Just 15 seconds later, Zach Giroux took a backdoor feed from Hayes before scoring his first of three goals on the night.
Ryan O’Rourke drew a cross-checking penalty at the 14:24 mark and the Firebirds struck again while two men up. Brennan Othmann fed Giroux, who skated in alone on Tynan and scored on a left-to-right deke, making it 4-0 at 15:24.
Asked if his team’s failure to generate on its own 5-on-3 helped get the Firebirds rolling, Dean spoke of the momentum that can come with such a kill.
“It would have been nice for us to score there, but without Tye we didn’t have our normal unit out there.”
After delivering a physical check on his first shift of the game, Kartye said his right collarbone area “felt really uncomfortable. I tried to play for a couple more shifts.”
But the OHL’s top power-play threat was unable to continue.
“God bless him. He tried to play two more shifts but just couldn’t do it,” said Dean, whose club has skated since Jan. 29 without star centre Tanner Dickinson, who suffered a broken thigh bone that night.
Kartye told Independent Media he expects to undergo X-rays on Sunday in the Sault.
Dean said the club believes Kartye suffered a break.
“I’m devastated for him, but proud of him,” the coach added. “He apologized to us that he couldn’t continue. That’s the kind of guy we’re dealing with here.”
Not being there for his coaches and teammates, Kartye noted, “was worse than the injury.”
On a night when they held a 55-28 edge in shots, the Firebirds worked the give-and-go for another two goals in the third period.
Simon Slavicek set up Coulson Pitre, before Pitre set up Slavicek.
Later, Giroux completed his hat trick and made it 7-0 with a redirection for his third power-play goal at 18:04.
Hounds overage Cole MacKay redirected a Calisti shot home with 24.9 seconds left in regulation to break Luke Cavallin’s shutout bid. It was the Sault native’s fifth goal of the playoffs.
“It’s pretty hard to put into words, losing in the first place,” said MacKay. “But I think we’re a better team than we showed tonight, obviously. Mistakes were made in several areas of the game.”
Asked about scoring the final goal, in his final Hounds game, MacKay talked about what it meant to do so with Calisti, Kerins and O’Rourke – all graduating players – on the ice with him.
“It’s pretty special I got to do it with those guys,” he added.
“Really proud of our guys for coming out tonight, closing it out on home ice and putting in a 100 per-cent effort,” Flint head coach Ted Dent said on the Firebirds radio broadcast.
Flint will meet Windsor, which eliminated Kitchener in five games on Saturday, in the Western Conference final expected to begin on Thursday in Windsor.
Despite the disappointing performance, Dean said he was proud of his charges.
“I thought they went to war until the end,” he said.
Kartye thanked the Hounds organization, calling it “world class.”
He said he attributed his success over his time in the Sault to the organization, his coaches, teammates and the fans.
“So happy I got to be a Greyhound and wear this jersey,” added Kerins. “It’s been the biggest honour of my life.”
Asked about the fans in his hometown, MacKay said he wanted to thank them “for the continued support and unconditional love they’ve shown the team during my time here. I’m grateful and blessed.”