Tillsonburg Thunder's season came to an end Saturday night with a 6-1 loss to the Komoka Classics in their WOAA senior men's hockey South Division finals.
Komoka had opened the best-of-seven final with a lopsided win in Tillsonburg, countered by a 3-2 Thunder win in Komoka. The Classics, who had lost a second-place tiebreaker to Tavistock to finish third in the South Division, denied first-place Tillsonburg 4-3 in a pivotal Game 3 on the 22nd. Komoka struck another blow winning 6-2 on home ice, setting up Saturday night's do-or-die Game 5 for Tillsonburg.
"We came off the best game of the year against Clinton to clinch that series (South semifinals) and we followed it up with our worst game of the year – it was bad, real bad," said Thunder defenceman Mike Findlay, recalling the 9-4 loss. "For some reason we just couldn't get it together. We played a good second game (in Komoka), but other than that we just didn't have it."
One of the things the Thunder did not have was a full set of healthy defencemen. Findlay, who missed the entire Clinton series with a separated shoulder, returned to face Komoka in the South final.
"Not 100 per cent," he admitted with a nod to his taped shoulder.
Thunder rookie defenceman Brad Jones, who had finished third in team scoring during the regular season with 26 points in 19 games, including a shared team-high four power-play goals, was only able to play six playoff games – none of them in the South final.
Veteran blueliner Tyler Lamb, who's 11 playoff games matched his 11 regular season games, was not in the Thunder lineup Saturday.
And Thunder captain Brad Streib was playing with a (hairline) fractured jaw after taking a puck to the face just 10 seconds into Game 1.
"We didn't play very well tonight and we probably didn't deserve to win, but the refereeing..." said Findlay, clearly frustrated by the officiating. "I hate using that as an excuse, but..."
Two key personnel exited Saturday's game early – head coach Jim Baxter at 7:24 of the second period, disputing a penalty shot which gave Komoka a 5-0 lead, and Kevin Galerno, who took a two-minute crosschecking penalty and 10-minute misconduct with 10:10 remaining in the third.
Devin Homick got one back for Tillsonburg with five minutes left in the second period, but Komoka responded with a sixth goal early in the third. Tillsonburg outshot Komoka 42-31.
"I don't know what it is... we just didn't have it," said Findlay, quick to note there was no giving up in the Thunder dressing room, even when they fell behind 3-1 in the series.
"Everybody in the room still thought that we were going to come back. We thought we were going to win. We're a good team – we still think we're the better team – but we just didn't put it together like they did. They had everybody on the same page, everybody was rolling. Their goalie played well. We let them do what they wanted, we tried to play their game instead of playing our game."
In six years since Tillsonburg's introduction to the WOAA in 2008-09, the Thunder have reach the South finals three times – without winning the division or league championship.
"I've been here every year," said Findlay, "and if you were to ask me at the beginning – if we were in it for six years – whether we would have won a championship by now, with the teams we've had, I would have thought we'd have at least one by now.
"We've had a couple bad breaks, like that one Monkton series. For the guys that are still here that was a hard one to swallow. Then this one, tonight."
Findlay says he plans to return for a seventh Thunder season next fall.
"Yeah, I'll probably be back," he nodded. "I'd much rather do this than play some NBC hockey – I don't have the patience to play that hockey. Yeah, I don't see any reason why I won't be back. I still want to win. I think that's the drive that keeps everybody going – they want to win.
"If we win," he laughed, "who knows what our team will look like, because every year you always hear guys say they're not coming back. And then the season comes around and pretty much everybody comes back. Hopefully that's the case next year because we've got a good team."