Tillsonburg Horizon Seeds atom rep hockey team survived a tense five-game OMHA BB quarter-final series with Strathroy, and now have Saugeen Shores on the semifinal horizon.
But it didn't come easy.
Facing elimination Thursday in Game 4 at the Tillsonburg Kinsmen Memorial Arena, the Tornadoes were trailing 3-0 late in the second period.
"We didn't have our best start," admitted Horizon Seeds atom coach Trevor Lamb. "With our backs against the wall I thought we would have come out flying. They took it to us for the first period... first period and a little bit. We finally started getting our legs going, started getting shots to the net, making good passes."
Strathroy had taken a 2-0 lead scoring with 3:09 left in the first, and again 30 seconds later. Another goal gave the visitors a 3-0 lead just 36 seconds into the second period.
"I don't know if the kids were nervous. But they showed how much heart they have. They didn't want to finish off their OMHA playoffs tonight."
The Horizon Seeds atoms successfully killed a Strathroy penalty and the momentum seemed to shift. Three minutes later had their first man advantage and although they didn't score on the power play, Tillsonburg's Devin Hawley and Brandon Balazs both scored soon after in the final minutes of the second period.
Juliusz Kowalski scored the game-tying goal early in the third and Nolan McCrossin completed the comeback firing the winner with 1:08 left to play.
Earlier in the day the Canadian women's hockey team had completed an impressive three-goal comeback to win Olympic gold medals.
"That was one of the inspirational talks out there," Lamb nodded.
"After it was 3-0, we were telling them on the bench 'we just need to get one goal.' One goal, then things would change."
Instead of 'climbing the hill,' they'd be skating 'down the mountain.'
"I think that first one was a big one," said Lamb, crediting Hawley's goal with 3:28 left in the second period. "We got the shot through, finally. It was late in the power play or just after the power play. That first one was huge. We certainly gained the momentum, it was like we were skating downhill instead of uphill.
"I don't think they got many chances in the third period at all. Our kids stood their ground – and pushed back. We're extremely proud of them for not giving up. We told them in the dressing room how much heart they have, and they deserve to win this series now. It might be a momentum swing for the whole series. But it's not going to be easy."
Tillsonburg did prevail Saturday winning 4-3 in Game 5, notable for it being the only road win of the series for either team. The Tornadoes had won both games in Tillsonburg, and Strathroy had won both earlier games on home ice.
Tillsonburg 4, Strathroy 3
Horizon Seeds scoring: 1. Devin Hawley (Hayden McLean, Connor Roberts); 2. Brandon Balazs (Travis Lamb, Nolan McCrossin); 3. Juliusz Kowalski; 4. Nolan McCrossin (Brandon Balazs, Evan Moore).
OMBA BB Quarterfinals
Feb. 14: Strathroy 4, Tillsonburg 2
Feb. 16: Tillsonburg 5, Strathroy 1
Feb. 18: Strathroy 3, Tillsonburg 2
Feb. 20: Tillsonburg 4, Strathroy 3
Feb. 22: Tillsonburg 5, Strathroy 4
OMHA BB Semifinals
March 2: Tillsonburg at Saugeen Shores (Game 1)