The U18 Niagara-on-the-Lake Wolves knew that winning an International Silver Stick hockey championship would be a tall order.
And they got a taste of just how tough that could be thanks to a remarkable loss in the semifinals Sunday morning – in triple overtime.
No shootout or 4 on 4 to decide who would go to the finals.
It was a “heartbreaking” loss to the Castor River Canucks, NOTL head coach Devon Neudorf admitted afterward.
But the team is using it as motivation for some unfinished business this season: the Niagara District Hockey League playoffs, which start Feb. 4, and qualifying for the provincial championships in Kingston in early April.
“While the defeat was heartbreaking, the team gained a lot of confidence over the weekend after competing with and defeating some of the best teams in the province,” Neudorf said.
And the Wolves didn’t let the disappointment deter them in league as they returned to their winning ways with a 3-0 win on Monday night in Thorold, he noted.
Sunday’s OT setback came after NOTL went 3-1 in the round-robin, losing only to the eventual champions, host Lambton Shores, in the featured game of the tourney played as part of the opening ceremonies on Friday night in Forest, Ont.
The Wolves began the tourney Friday morning by edging the Petrolia Oilers, at the time the top-ranked Ontario Minor Hockey Association U18 B team.
Down 3-2 after the second period, NOTL regrouped at the intermission but fell behind 4-2 a minute into the third.
However, the Wolves stormed back with three unanswered goals, including the winner by Andrew Bayne with just 46 seconds left.
It was Bayne’s first game back in three months after breaking his collarbone.
After losing 6-2 to Lambton on Friday evening, they played an “extremely disciplined game in both ends of the ice,” Neudorf said, to hand Castor River its only round-robin loss, a 1-0 shutout for goalie Braden Sawyer.
Calo Zambito’s point shot was the difference.
In their final round-robin game versus Mooretown, the Wolves controlled their own destiny – win and they would advance to the knockout round.
After a scoreless first period, “we came out flying in the second and scored three goals to take a 3-0 lead,” Neudorf said.
They added three more in the third period, including two shorthanded markers on the same penalty kill, by Dylan Price and Lucas Roberts Ramos.
Goaltender Quentin Davis earned the 6-0 shutout win.
Seeded second behind Lambton, which received a bye to the final, that set up the semi against Castor River.
Having shut out the Canucks a day earlier, Davis got the start.
The Wolves never had a lead during the game “but kept up the pressure and scored to tie things up both times we fell behind,” Neudorf said.
Logan Rossi tied it 1-1 with 12 seconds left in the second period, then Castor River made it 2-1 in the third.
But Ed Friesen scored on the power play to make it 2-2 with 5:22 left.
That set up a classic defensive battle through three periods of 10-minute overtime, the coach said.
NOTL dominated and controlled the play, hitting three posts and a crossbar, he said.
But the Canucks scored on a scrum in front of the net with 34 seconds left in the third extra period.
Tourney notes: Logan Rossi led the tournament with two goals and five assists for seven points in five games. Andrew Bayne was the tourney’s top goal scorer, with three. Lucas Roberts Ramos tied for third in scoring with two goals and three assists.
Ten NOTL players scored in the tournament: Bayne (3), Rossi, Roberts Ramos, Dylan Price and Noah Whyte (2), Nicholas Munera, Josh Dulas, Billy Pillitteri-Smith, Calo Zambito and Ed Friesen (1).
The “very disciplined” Wolves also were the least penalized team in the tournament, Neudorf said.