Playoff hockey is officially underway in the Summit City with the Memorial Cup Semifinals. The top seeded Chargers took on last year’s regular season champion in the Fort Wayne Vipers and the second semifinal featured a rematch of last year’s Memorial Cup Final between Leo and Homestead.
Carroll 4, Vipers 3 OT
Carroll came out of the gates quickly and put the pressure on the Vipers early. A tripping penalty to John Speer gave Carroll an early powerplay just 5:15 into the period and it didn’t take them long to convert on the man advantage. Sam Krauhs collected the puck at the blue line and worked it over to Brody Burge on the far side. Burge then passed it into the slot to Cam Drexler who caught the pass on his forehand then fired a shot through the legs of Ben Marques after 34 seconds on the power play. The Vipers were able to fight back late in the period with a pair of quick goals to take the lead through one. Darcy Koch won a puck battle along the wall and slid a pass to John Goodine who had evaded the Carroll defense to get in front of the goal basically on his own. With a move to his forehand, he was just able to put it past Carson Carteaux reaching back with his stick in a last-ditch effort to block the shot. That goal left 2:18 on the board for the first period and exactly one minute later Christian Brown scored his first of the postseason to put the Vipers ahead. Brown, named to the All-City Second Team earlier this week, found his way down towards the Carroll goal line and the puck made its way to him. He took a shot on the backhand and found twine for a 2-1 Vipers lead.
Now it was Carroll’s turn to get the game evened up again as they found themselves yet again trailing the Vipers in the early going. Back on the power play, Burge tried a slapshot that was turned aside by Marques. Carter Gnau recovered the rebound and fed Burge his seconds and this time he unleashed a one-timer to the top corner for Carroll’s second power-play goal of the game. That one likely provided a larger boost to the Chargers as the power play came with Simon Watson in the sin bin after slowing up Dylan Braun by the collar of his jersey, then delivering a late(ish) hit to Braun leading to an unfriendly social gathering of players from each team. Braun had to go to the locker room and looked to be in a lot of discomfort, reaching for his collarbone area that had recently healed from injury but he was able to return in the third period. Through two periods the Chargers led the shots on goal department 19-16 but the Vipers turned the tables in the third, leading the category 15-4. The Vipers scored the go-ahead goal to take a third-period lead when Jackson Bertels was able to poke home the rebound from a Watson shot. On the back foot again, Carroll was able to charge back and tie the game again. The Chargers were hounding the puck down low and Jack Backstrom’s clearing attempt didn’t make it past Krauhs at the blue line. Krauhs then let go a wrister that made its way to the back of the net with 5:11 to play in regulation. No one was able to break the tie before the buzzer sounded and off to overtime the game went, the second time this season these clubs didn’t have a winner after 45 minutes. A penalty to Bertels with 1:30 to go in the third left Carroll with carry-over penalty time so with the overtime procedure being the same as in the regular season they’d start the extra frame with a 4-on-3 power play. The Chargers needed only 21 seconds of extra time to secure the W and advance. Krauhs brought the puck across the blue line and with a couple of stick handles was able to find room to get a shot off. Gnau was parked in front of the net and redirected the shot past Marques to send Carroll to Saturday’s Memorial Cup Final.
(Note: Special shoutout to Carteaux at the end of the game. Instead of celebrating with his teammates right away, he spent some time consoling Maruqes, who played a terrific game, along with Vipers backup Kam Clark. It’s always good seeing stuff like that, especially among a pair of Seniors.)
Leo 5, Homestead 0
The second semifinal featured the middle two seeds so naturally, it figured to be the closer of the two games heading into the night. The first few minutes of the game were characterized by turnovers on each side of the puck and on one occasion a team got burned. That team would be Homestead. Chris Adasczik skated behind the Spartan goal and wasn’t under much pressure when he made a crisp pass to Weston Roth. Roth fired it past Connor Gould before Gould could get across the blue paint, putting Leo in front four minutes in. After the Leo goal, Andrew Baumert had to leave the ice to get an equipment issue taken care of which brought Xander Mulholland into the game. He was brought right up to speed in the game with Gavin Elkins coming at him trying to find the quick equalizer. Mulholland made the stop and wound up making four total in his brief appearance. Leo grew their lead to two when Colten Calhoun forced a turnover below the goal line. His centering pass tricked out to the point where Riley Murphy drove it through traffic and past Gould only 1:33 after the Roth goal. Homestead kept the pressure up though, undeterred by their misfortune in their defensive zone. Baumert made his way back to the ice and was still locked in, turning away 13 Homestead shots in the period to keep a zero on the Visitor side of the scoreboard.
The second period was a similar story. Homestead controlled the puck more often than not but couldn’t find the back of the net. Leo yet again capitalized when chances came their way with a pair of goals late in the closing minutes of the period. Aaron Amick made it 3-0 in favor of Leo with a wrist shot off the iron. Amick grabbed the puck out of a battle in the corner and let the shot go from just below the faceoff dot in the left circle with 2:07 to go. 49 seconds later it was Alex Hendricks’s turn. Austin Amick took a shot from the point that got redirected towards the net. Hendricks had set up shop at the top of the crease and his second try got past Gould who then got swapped for Alex Dougherty. Homestead was able to stabilize for the last 1:18 of the second to keep the deficit at four and two penalties to Leo in the final minute gave the Spartans a 5-on-3 power play with most of that time coming after the intermission. Despite about 1:30 on that two-man advantage, Homestead couldn’t convert and then couldn’t find one with the remaining time at 5-on-4 either, making the proverbial mountain even taller if they were to claw back and win. Nearly any thought of that happening was quickly extinguished after Aaron Amick’s second of the game extended the lead to five goals, forcing a running clock with 11:12 left. A high sticking penalty to Elkins put Leo on the power play which is when they did their damage. By the time the final buzzer sounded it was a 5-0 win for Leo, powered by a masterclass in net from Baumert who pitched in 32 of Leo’s 36 saves for the shutout.
Last Week: 1-1
This Season: 24-8
Perfect Scores: 3/32
Carroll 4, Leo 2
I really wanted to say three to two because I don’t think Baumert gives up more than three, but I also think it’s more than a one-goal game so I’ll settle for this and say its an empty netter. One look at the number of times I actually got the score right this year tells you all you need to know about the chances this ends up being the score so keep that in mind. I really don’t have much to say on this one, Carroll has the advantage at every position except for goalie if Baumert delivers like he did Wednesday. Carteaux was better across the regular season though so it just comes down to who shows up when it matters most.