Homegrown goalie Stephen Wolff turned in a sparkling 44-save performance and his teammates were tenacious in Kerry Park Tuesday night, as the Generals outlasted the Islanders in a game five overtime classic to win their opening playoff series.
That the Gens bounced back from two straight losses to win three straight definitely bodes well for the young team, and it was especially fitting that the team’s dynamic duo of Kyle Yamasaki and Brent Baltus would factor into the wining goal.
“That was huge,” one pleased head coach and GM Dave Johnston marvelled after.
“We were committed — very blue collar. I think we played a very complete 60 minute game. We (had to) and we did. Really, we’re good in all areas, and I’m not surprised at all, I’m really not,” said Johnston, adding, “I knew this group is capable of great things, and that they just had to start believing in themselves.”
Asked about the play of his goalie, who has backstopped his team to three straight wins including two by shutout, Johnston said the 20-year-old local ‘tender has been fantastic.
“No question. At the end of the day we wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for the way he’s been playing in the last three games. Even though we’ve got a lot of great performances from a lot of players, without question Stephen Wolff was the MVP of that series for us.”
In Tuesday’s game five, the two teams skated to scoreless first period tie. Jaden Schmiesser (Brent Baltus) staked the Gens to a 1-0 lead 7:35 into the second period on the power play, and KP tied it 1-1 at 11:08 which is how it stood after 40 minutes.
Conner Allison (Tyler Auricchio, Jeff Bartel) made it 2-1 Gens 3:36 into the third on the PP, KP tied it 2-2 at 11:09. Baltus scored unassisted just under three minutes later to put the Gens up 3-2, and the Islanders pulled the tie out of the fire at 19:01.
“Yammers” scored the winner 2:02 into OT from just inside the blue line off a Baluts rebound.
“There was a mad scramble, the puck squirted out onto Yammers stick and he just absolutely buried a shot under the bar. It was unreal, it was a rocket of a shot,” said Johnston.
“Your best players have to be your best players, and ours were.”
Oceanside’s Save-On-Foods crew outshot KP 16-11 in the first, but KP had a 13-6 edge in the second and threw everything they had at the Generals in the third, outshooting Oceanside 22-5.
With the players on both teams under strict orders to stay out of the penalty box, the game unfolded fast and furious. There were only eight penalties on the night — five to KP and three to Oceanside.
“And for us as a team, what’s been huge is our ability to be disciplined,” said Johnston. “We were by far the more disciplined team in that series, and it put us in the drivers seat.”
The Generals opened their best of five VIJHL semi-final against the league champion Victoria Cougars, who are ranked top five in the country, in Victoria Thursday night (score unavailable at press time). The ‘Cougs finished the regular season at 33-9-0-2 while the Gens came in at 19-21-0-4.
“They’re a veteran team that has a lot of skills; they’re a skilled, smaller team and they’re quick, we don’t want to get into 3-on-2 exchanges with them,” surmised Johnston. “We’re going to need to be very good defensively.
“Yeah, we do, and the guys are excited about the opportunity to play them,” Johnston answered quickly when asked if they have a shot at upsetting Victoria.
“They’re a good team, but we’re one of the few teams that beat them this year (in overtime in Victoria before Christmas), and for us, the underdog role is a very good place for a young team to be.”
Forward Luciano Somerville is back from injury this week and will replace Ryan Heathfield who is on the shelf with an upper body injury.
The VIJHL semifinals get underway Thursday with the Generals and Cougars opening their best of five Thursday night (score unavailable at press time). Game two goes Saturday at Oceanside Place (7:30 p.m. start); game three is Sunday back in Victoria and game four, if necessary is back here next Wednesday.