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Thunder eke out 7-6 victory

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Twelve goals in, the Tillsonburg Thunder needed a stretch drive gut check to eke out a 7-6 WOAA Men’s Hockey victory over the visiting Komoka Classics Friday evening in the Kinsmen/Memorial Arena.

“That’s not the way we wrote it up, obviously,” said Tillsonburg Thunder goalie Neil Pittock. “But sometimes that’s hockey – that’s the way it happens.

“We did a good job of bouncing back after a bit of a slow start in the second.”

Pittock made his entrance after that ‘slow start’ which saw Tillsonburg trailing 5-3 with 3:10 remaining in the second frame.

“It happens, you’ve got to be ready always,” said Pittock, who came on in relief of starter Ben Thomas. “I just tried to go in and do a job, gave up one, but lucky we got it back and did the job.”

Tillsonburg’s Adam Wallace (from Adam Vandepoele and Travis Lisabeth) and Vandepoele (Nathan Peacock) scored 46 seconds apart beginning with 1:28 remaining in the frame to get the Thunder back on even ground. Brad Jones connected on the power-play from Shane Balcomb and Wallace at the 4:46 mark of the third to give Tillsonburg a one-goal advantage, but Komoka’s Mark Landon responded with 13:55 remaining in regulation time to send the game back to square one.

Tillsonburg’s fourth line eased the Thunder back into a one-goal lead with ‘third effort’ on its second shift of the third period.

“They went out and did their job,” credited coach Jim Baxter.

Chris McGuffin set the goal up following a frustrated wraparound attempt, cut off at the pass by a much-larger Komoka defender. McGuffin stayed with the play, hauled down as he attempted to regain possession of the puck near the faceoff dot to Komoka goalie Mike Coulter’s left. Undeterred, McGuffin regained his skates enough to fire the puck on goal, where linemate Christian Babb alertly pounced on the rebound, backhanding it home, high on the short side with 6:20 remaining in regulation time.

“One of the toughest games of the year so far,” said Babb. “But we know we’re going to have games like that, the biggest thing is overcoming, which we’ve found a way to do all year.”

The one-goal lead stood up, but not without its challenges, including Pittock’s final, toughest save of the stretch run, facing down Komoka’s Andrew Carey with 1:21 remaining in regulation time as the latter circled his net, north to south.

“I just tried to stay big,” said Pittock. “Gave him nothing to shoot at and gobble up the rebound too – didn’t want anything to squeak out.”

The final minute included a Peacock block on an attempted shot from the right point, an ill-advised attempt at an empty net that gave Komoka a faceoff in Tillsonburg’s zone with 1.2 seconds remaining, salvaged as Terry Lammens scrambled the faceoff to lock up a tenuous one-goal victory.

“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” McGuffin summed up. “Play as a team, stick to a system, found a way to battle back from a little adversity.

“That’s about what you need when it comes to playoffs – and they’re coming up sooner than you think.”

Lisabeth had opened scoring for Tillsonburg at the game’s 4:17 mark and Peacock upped the advantage to two with 11:35 remaining in the frame, assisted by Babb and Curtis Maracle. Drew Collison got the visitors on the board with 1:03 left, on the power play and teammate Mike Findlater tied the game at two 2:03 into the second. Tillsonburg’s Ryan Pottruff put the Thunder back in the lead 20 seconds past the second period’s midpoint, with help from Lisabeth and McGuffin. But Komoka’s Alex Avery scored short-handed and on the power-play with 9:19 and 5:01 to play in the second, respectively, and teammate Bok Steyanovich gave the Classics a two-goal lead with 3:10 remaining, setting the stage for Tillsonburg’s comeback, and ultimately, victory.

“Nothing beautiful about it, nothing at all,” summed up Baxter, qualifying his unhappiness with the nature of the victory, with the fact it was in fact just that – along with two points against a division rival, important given his desire to finish in first place. “And we didn’t give them a point, that’s a big thing.”

The other positive was the Thunder gutted out a one-goal victory, and is 16-1 in one-goal games, which are the best kind of preparation for playoff hockey.

“Like you said, gut-check time,” Baxter concluded.

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