TORONTO - A couple of frequent offensive contributors in Josh Sterk and Michael Fine helped the Ryerson Rams men's hockey team avoid a dramatic game one upset by combining for two goals in the third period for a come from behind 2-1 victory over the Waterloo Warriors Wednesday night.
The netminders, Mike Morrison and Charlie Graham, were exceptional between the pipes for their respective clubs. The Warriors' Morrison had a substantial amount of pressure on his shoulders ahead of game one, and delivered in almost every way possible with a number of key stops throughout his 37-save performance. Despite the loss, he gave his team every bit of a chance and more in the opening series defeat, and gained the utmost of respect from his opposition moving forward.
The backing from Morrison gave life to the rest of his teammates and led to a strong first period from the Warriors. They mastered a tight checking strategy that stifled the OUA's top scoring team to zero goals through the opening 40 minutes. Although the outcome at the end of 60 minutes may not have been the end result they were hoping for prior to puck drop, their ability to eliminate the Rams' time and space has immediately made them a far more respected 8th seed underdog moving forward.
"Obviously they have a good coach, they did their homework on us and shut down our offence in the first couple periods," said Rams' goal scorer Josh Sterk. "They just trapped us up."
Rams' head coach Johnny Duco had a similar comment on their ability to clog up the neutral zone effectively, but knew it was just a matter of time before the team finally got back on track.
"It was one of those games…you get into playoff hockey, they were clogging up the middle of the ice, they're a tight checking team and they had a good game plan on how to slow us down," said Duco following the win. "We needed to make adjustments to be able to continue to generate offense and in the third period we started to get our legs going."
After a mediocre first period, the Rams came out for the second with a much better effort. They carried the pace and began to take control of the tight knit situation, but still failed to squeak one past the impenetrable wall of Morrison. They out shot the Warriors 16-11 and had three power play opportunities they failed to capitalize on. And just like that, the Rams found themselves in a 0-0 tie with just a period to work with in game one of a best of three series against the #8 seed in the OUA West.
It felt as if it was time to panic. But with the Rams housing one of the most offensively gifted lineups in the OUA, a full twenty-minute period has been more than enough time to get the job done.
With the puck drop insinuating the start of the third period, the Rams looked relaxed and poised to inflict damage on their lesser opponent. However, mid-way through the third, the Warriors gave them every reason to have clammy palms.
Warriors' Michael Siddall made an incredible hand-eye coordinated play and whacked a flying puck in midair right past Graham, and gave the Warriors a shocking 1-0 lead just over the ten-minute mark in the third.
"They scored…and everyone was down. I just spoke up and said 'we have ten minutes to go,'" said Sterk. "Brandon Devlin was the one that kind of messed up and we told him that 'you have the next one, you're one of our best defenseman,' and I guess that sparked the team and calmed us down. We were calm, cool and collected, and everything went the way it was suppose too."
Little did Sterk know, it wasn't Devlin who would go on to eventually even the score at one, but instead himself, and with an incredible individual play to boot. Sterk picked the puck up on the near side wall, curled at the blue line, and took it all the way home as he blasted a perfectly placed wrist shot through a screen to beat Morrison nearly two minutes after the Warriors pulled ahead.
It was a remarkable display of individual talent and a goal that many of those watching will remember. However, Sterk on the other hand, had a tough time recalling exactly what happened post-game.
"To be honest… I blanked out," said Sterk when asked to describe what went through his head on the goal. "What I remember is that I got the puck on the half wall, picked it up and there was two guys on me. It opened up and I saw a guy come towards me, and just pulled it off to my backhand. Then I was right there in the slot, and Mistele had a great screen in front of the goalie. Without a screen that probably doesn't go in…so thanks to him."
The Rams looked completely rejuvenated after the equalizer and with just over five-minutes left in the third, Alex Basso sent a seeing-eye pass cross-ice to Fine, who sent a one-timer through the wickets of Morrison for the go-ahead goal.
Captain clutch's go ahead marker proved to be the difference maker in the end with the #1 Rams taking a 1-0 lead in the best of three OUA West Quarter-final over the #8 Warriors.
"It was a good way to respond and I think that it was a great way for us to start our playoffs," said Duco. "It shows that things aren't going to be easy no matter who you play. That it's going to be a tough hockey game and you're going to have to compete for 60 minutes…do things the right way or you are going to be in tough."
Graham finished with 25 saves in the win and was a substantial component for the Rams. In a tight checking match like Wednesday night, the importance of having a steady supporter in net is quite substantial. He will be depended on again in game two on Friday with it moving to the compact Columbia Ice Fields in Waterloo.
"It's going to be even tighter checking Friday night. It's a smaller arena with shorter glass so we are going to have to do a better job to be tighter on the boards and to take what they give us," said Duco ahead of game two Friday. "Continue to work the cycle, use our defenseman when they collapse in the defensive zone. We'll watch some video and prepare for Friday night but it's going to be no different. They're going to come out with their season on the line, so we have to have that killer instinct to put them away as early as possible."
Friday night is scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. start at Columbia Ice Fields in Waterloo as the Warriors look to even the series with a game two victory at home. Based on the results, the Rams are scheduled to host an "if necessary" game three at the MAC Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Source: Ryerson Rams