It wasn’t a Gordie Howe hat trick.
But maybe, a modified form.
“Two goals, an assist and eight or 10 stitches,” summed up Tillsonburg Thunder forward Terry Lammens following a 6-4 WOAA Men’s Hockey best-of-seven series-opening victory over the Clinton Radars Saturday evening at the Kinsmen/Memorial Arena.
“A little different than the last one (series),” added a leaking Lammens. “At least it’s a hockey series now – playoffs.”
The veteran Thunder forward picked up what was believed to be a skate cut under his lower lip during a backcheck, during which he, Clinton’s Luke Vick, Tillsonburg goalie Cody Vinnai and the latter’s net ended up in a tangled heap along the end boards, several feet from their original position.
Lammens had more impact on the game than on his goalie or net however, centring a three-goal, 3:52 first-period burst (assisted by Shane Balcomb and Ryan Gaertner), sandwiched between Nathan Peacock’s game-opener at 6:59 (Adam Wallace and Kevin Galerno); and Travis Lisabeth (Brad Streib and Tyler Lamb). Justin Salt added a power-play marker with 4:29 remaining in the opening frame on assists to Peacock and Brad Jones, upping Tillsonburg’s lead to 4-0.
Clinton’s Deryk Whitehead got the visitors on the board, prior to the end of the first, but the Thunder extended its lead with a 2-1 advantage through the second. Lisabeth added his second at the frame’s 5:55 mark with help from Lammens and Chris McGuffin to make it a 5-1 game. Personal stats are far less important than a team result, said Lisabeth.
“We’ve got more than enough guys who can put the puck in the net. But it’s nice to contribute.”
The Radars’ Cody Hamilton one-timed home a power-play marker from the slot with 4:20 to play, but Lammens responded, unassisted, to restore a four-goal Tillsonburg lead heading into the third period.
The series heated up as the period closed out. Tillsonburg’s Jones collapsed to the ice as Clinton’s Tyler VanDrunnen headed past en route to the penalty box with 2:15 remaining after being assessed a two-minute slashing minor. Peacock came to his teammate’s defence, initiating a line scrum, rather than line brawl. In its aftermath Van Drunnen was assessed a double-minor for spearing and Peacock minors for roughing and cross-checking, along with a 10-minute misconduct.
All six Thunder goals came in handy through the third as Clinton pulled within a pair courtesy of Vick, and a Mike Gillen power-play marker that came with 6:06 remaining.
Tillsonburg had a 10-minute lull during the frame, said Lisabeth, but locked up the win with a solid final five minutes against a quality Clinton squad that is expected to give nothing away.
“We knew that coming in,” said Lisabeth, noting Tillsonburg wasn’t ‘rusty’, but may not have developed the best habits during an opening-round series against the last-place Goderich Pirates.
“It’s good, definitely better than what we played before. Nothing against Goderich, but better competition this time around.
“That’s a good team out there.”
Clinton is a lot more physical, says Lisabeth, with a tighter-checking style that leaves a lot less ‘room’ on the ice.
“But we got a good start – that was key.”
Tillsonburg’s Cody Vinnai made 25 saves on 29 shots to pick up the win. Aaron Bedard, reportedly Clinton’s starting goalie, was unavailable for the opening faceoff, taking over for Josh Nurse at the 5:55 mark of the second period on Tillsonburg’s fifth goal. Nurse had made seven saves to that point, with Bedard good on 12 of 13 from there on in.
A game one victory was big, said Tillsonburg coach Jim Baxter, who expects more of the same as the series continues.
Tillsonburg took two of three from Clinton during the regular season, but not without challenge. The Radars handed Tillsonburg its first loss (of three) on the campaign, a 1-0 shutout. The Thunder came back from a 2-0 deficit with three third-period goals in a tight 3-2 win, before closing out the regular season with a 5-3 decision.
Game three returns to Tillsonburg Saturday evening for a 7:30 p.m. opening faceoff, back-to-back with Friday’s scheduled start in Clinton. The Radars are particularly tough on home ice, says Baxter, cutting down open space with tight checking, an approach requiring the Thunder to use its team speed.
“All four teams in the final four deserve to be here,” he added in conclusion. “I think every game can go either way – you get the goaltending or the lucky bounce.”