Elora Rocks have won the 2022 WOSHL inaugural playoff championships taking Game 6 in Tillsonburg 3-2 on Saturday night.
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In a must-win game for the Tillsonburg Thunder, who twice took one-goal leads. Brendan Barletta opened the scoring on a first-period power play, and Elora’s Alex Utley evened at 1-1 five minutes later.
Mitchell Fitzmorris connected on a second-period power play to give Tillsonburg a 2-1 lead, and Steven Dol equalized on a short-handed breakaway 1:44 later.
Both teams had quality opportunities in the third – and goalposts. Elora’s Charlie Stephens scored the series-winner on a power play with seven minutes left to play and the Rock held on to lift the first Sleeman Cup.
“It was a great series,” said Tillsonburg coach Rob Hutchison. “We battled hard and on any given night it was anybody’s game, I think, and it came across that way.”
Tillsonburg and Elora split the opening weekend games – Elora on 7-5 on home ice, Tillsonburg replied with a 7-6 win at the Kinsmen Memorial Arena.
They also split the second weekend in the best-of-seven, both teams winning 5-4 on home ice.
“It was just ‘who got the lucky shot, the lucky bounce,’” said Hutchison. “We were right there. It is what it is and it could have been anyone’s win on any night.”
Tillsonburg lost Game 5 in Fergus Friday night after taking a 2-0 second-period lead on goals by Brendan Barletta and Jake Brown. Cam Sault assisted on both.
Elora came from behind with three late goals in the final six minutes, including the 3-2 game winner by Utley with 1:02 left to play. Stephens notched two goals for Elora.
“We didn’t lay back, but… it happened,” said Hutchison. “Charlie Stephens, the MVP out there, he got most of the points this series. He’s a good player, he was a threat for them and we knew we had to hone in on him sometimes. He sees open ice and he goes – a quality player.
“We have that quality, too, we just didn’t connect. It was there – on any night it was there to take. We battled hard the whole series with everybody, from guys who have been in and out of the lineup to guys who were constantly in the lineup, every game. Everybody did their jobs and we battled hard. We just fell short.”
Elora had finished on top of the five-team Western Ontario Super Hockey League regular season standings with a 17-3-0 record. Strathroy Jets followed in second 13-5-2 and the third-seed Thunder were 10-10-0. Stratford Fighting Irish finished fourth 8-10-2 and Alvinston fifth 1-18-1.
“The league’s been awesome, they did a great job,” said Hutchison. “It started out really well and finished strong. Everybody’s got to be proud of the whole league, from the executive of each team to (Jamie) Petry, the president, they’ve all done an excellent job.
“It’s a good base moving forward for quality hockey. All you have to do is look at the crowd tonight. Elora brought a (fan) bus and I watched (Tillonburg fans) coming in tonight that I haven’t seen before, so that’s good. It’s the buzz. For the league, it’s a bonus. It’s good to see a good playoff run like this. All of the playoff series were decent. Raw, hard talent is what it came down to. A solid year for the league – it was awesome.”
Two new teams have been confirmed for the 2022-23 WOSHL season – Plattsville Lakers and Delhi Flames.
“I think each side is going to have a decent (player) draw,” said Hutchison. “There is enough raw talent around, and it attracts each other.”