Lightning, in the form of Idaho Junior Steelheads co-captain Kyle Williams, struck the Missoula Maulers twice last weekend as Williams ended both games with overtime goals to enable the Idaho team to win their second straight WSHL Northwest Division playoff championship and advance to the Pacific Conference finals (league semi-finals) next weekend.
The Junior Steelheads will host the Long Beach Bombers in McCall with games starting at 7 PM MDT Friday and Saturday nights, and a Sunday afternoon contest if a third game is necessary.
The defending Thorne Cup champion Junior Steelheads are the only repeat team in the “final four.” Long Beach, Oklahoma City, and the Colorado Eagles are all first time division playoff champions. Oklahoma City and the Eagles will play in the other semi-final series, with the semi-final winners advancing to play for the 2015-2016 Thorne Cup.
Williams, a center from Sharpsville, Pennsylvania with his parents in attendance, scored seven minutes and 51 seconds into overtime Friday night to beat Missoula 2-1, then two minutes and 27 seconds into Saturday’s overtime to give the Junior Steelheads the 5-4 victory. Pontus Blom and the other co-captain, Dimitris Jones, assisted.
The Junior Steelheads and Maulers entertained a crowd of more than 600 people Saturday night with a second classic hard-fought battle.
Idaho got the first goal mid-way in the first period as Williams scored on a power play with Jones and Oleg Losev assisting. It was Losev who had fed Williams the pass on the game-winning power play goal the night before.
The Maulers’ Damon Hanson tied the Saturday game 13 minutes and 23 seconds into the first period.
Hanson had had Missoula’s only goal on Friday.
The Junior Steelheads took a 2-1 lead a couple of minutes later, as Nikita Zgirskis poked one past Noah Parker from the corner of the net, with Williams and Hunter Lester getting the assists, and the first period ended with that score.
Three minutes and 14 seconds into the second period, Hanson tied the game once again, with Paige Maul assisting.
At the 7:36 mark, the Junior Steelheads regained the lead on a Thomas Zitz goal, with Parker Lewis and Zach Walden earning assists, then added goal number four a minute and a half later, with Axel Meurling lighting the lamp, assisted by co-captains Williams and Jones.
The Maulers did anything but fold up their tent at this point, and tied the game 4-4 with two late second period goals. Misha Akatnov got the first with 2:42 left in the period, Hanson assisting, and Mårten Eckström scored on a power play, unassisted, with just six seconds remaining.
Whereas the Friday night game featured scoreless first and second periods, Saturday’s third period was the one with no goals for either team, and the fans in McCall were treated to the excitement and tension of another overtime game.
In the overtime,Missoula took three shots on goal on Austin Althaus, and Idaho took two on Parker, the second one winning the game and Division Championship for the Junior Steelheads.
Althaus, from St. Cloud, Minnesota, made 30 saves altogether in earning his 25th win of the season.
Parker, a fellow Minnesotan from Northfield, notched 47 saves for a two-night total of 77. He finished his fine season with 27 wins, nine losses, and three overtime losses for the Maulers.
During the regular season, Idaho and Missoula played four one-goal games against one another, one two-goal game, and one three-goal game.
In typical fashion, the two teams battled Friday before the game’s first goal was notched by Idaho’s Macky Power one minute and 25 seconds into the third period.
Co-captain Dimitris Jones blasted a shot from the left point after Colton Fletcher had passed him the puck, and Power tipped Jones’ drive into the net to give the Junior Steelheads the 1-0 lead.
The rest of the third period saw continuous back and forth action, with Missoula unsuccessful on two power plays, before the Maulers’ leading scorer, Hanson, put the puck on net from the corner and surprised Idaho goaltender Sergei Pysarenko to tie the game. The Maulers had pulled Parker from the goal with two minutes left for the extra attacker, and the strategy worked to force overtime.
Pysarenko made 23 saves for the Junior Steelheads, getting his 21st victory of the season.
Parker stopped 30 of the 32 Idaho shots he faced. Williams’ game-winning goal was the only Junior Steelhead shot taken in the Friday overtime period.
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