Captain Clutch: Sonnenburg lifts Warriors to OT victory

Captain Clutch: Sonnenburg lifts Warriors to OT victory

The Waterloo Warriors had a decision to make when they walked in the dressing room at 7:40 pm on Friday night.

It was the first intermission of game two of their best-of-three OUA West division quarterfinal series against the top-seeded Ryerson Rams. Facing elimination after a game 1 loss Wednesday, the Warriors didn't exactly enjoy a to-the-script opening 20 minutes: They were overaggressive. They took penalties. The Rams moved the puck faster, and moved their legs faster. When the dust settled, the Warriors were down three goals, and down one of their top players – defenceman Mike Moffat (Waterloo) – who was ejected late in the frame.

So the Warriors had a decision to make. They could use the opening period as the beginning of the end to their season, or they could use it as chapter one of a Cinderella comeback story. They chose the latter.

Captain Riley Sonnenburg (Cambridge) scored just under seven minutes into overtime to cap off an incredible comeback for the eighth-seed Warriors, who evened the series with a 5-4 victory in extra time in an electric Friday night at the Columbia Icefield Arena.

The win came after the Warriors fought back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead in the third, only to see the Rams send it to overtime with under five minutes to play in regulation. Sonnenburg's goal gave the Warriors their first playoff overtime victory since game one of the 2013 OUA West division finals against the Windsor Lancers, and it sets up a winner-take-all game three on Saturday night in Toronto.

Sam Caldwell (Cape Breton) and Phillip Fife (Oromocto) each notched a goal and an assist, while Zac Coulter (Owen Sound) and Stephen Silas (Georgetown) added two assists apiece. Michael Siddall (St. Mary's) and Mitch Elliot (Prince George) also scored for the Warriors, while Mike Morrison (Hamilton) turned aside 30 shots to earn the win.

The Rams got two first-period goals from Josh Sterk, with a Matt Mistele marker in between them. Marcus Hinds also scored for Ryerson, as his deflection late in the third knotted the game at 4-4. Daniel Poliziani added two helpers, while goaltender Charlie Graham made 24 saves in defeat.

The Rams certainly couldn't have seen a loss coming with the way their night began, as the visitors got on the board early and often. Sterk and Mistele each scored a power play marker before the game was five minutes old. Just when the penalty-filled first period looked to be settling down, Sterk scored again late in the frame to make the score 3-0 Ryerson after 20 minutes. To make matters worse, Moffat was ejected with a Gross Misconduct penalty after Sterk's goal, leaving the Waterloo blue line undermanned.

But the hosts were not deterred, and they came out firing in the second period. Fife drew first blood when he smacked home a rebound on the power play to make it 3-1, before Caldwell pinched in and sniped home a wrister to cut the Ryerson lead to one goal. Then, after a huge penalty kill, the Warriors equalized on a power play of their own when Siddall roofed a rebound, making it 3-3 after 40 minutes.

The back-and-forth third finally rendered a goal when Elliot tossed an innocent wrister on net that eluded Graham, giving Waterloo their first lead of the game at 4-3. But the Rams poured on the pressure late, and Hinds tipped home a point shot at 15:18 of the third to send the game to overtime tied 4-4.

The Warriors capped the comeback and extended their season at the 6:45 mark of the extra session, when Sonnenburg kept an offensive zone cycle going by poking the puck back to Caldwell at the line. After Caldwell's point shot bounced off Eric Diodati (Niagara Falls) and landed on Sonnenburg's stick in the slot, the captain sent the Waterloo faithful into a frenzy when he buried the winner.

The Warriors and Rams will now face off in a decisive game three at the Mattamy Athletic Centre on Saturday night, February 18. Puck drop is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be streamed live on oua.tv.

Source: Waterloo Warriors