The Meridian arena in Niagara-on-the-Lake was rocking Saturday night as the NOTL Wolves U18 rep team staved off elimination in the Niagara District hockey finals.
They’d lost game 1 of their best-of-three series against the Fort Erie Meteors on Thursday, making Saturday a must-win back at home.
Goals by Jack Marotta and Noah Ostromecki, plus another superb goaltending performance by Mateo Gruosso, gave NOTL a 2-1 lead heading into the third period.
With less than a minute to play in regulation, Fort Erie called a timeout and then pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker.
It paid off. They tied it at 2-2 with just 45 seconds to go.
But NOTL wasn’t finished.
“On the very next shift, a well-placed breakout pass from Reese Gordon found Griffin Dyck streaking up the wing,” team trainer Jeff Dyck said afterward.
“Griffin fought off a defender and put the puck over the shoulder of the Fort Erie goaltender to score the winning goal with only nine seconds left in the game, giving NOTL the 3-2 win.”
“The atmosphere in the building was electric.”
That set up a winner-take-all matchup Sunday back in Fort Erie.
Fort Erie struck first with an early goal, but NOTL played some inspired hockey, killing off several penalties before Ethan Peters scored his first of the season to cut the deficit to 2-1 with five minutes left.
“Despite sustained pressure in the Fort Erie zone and several chances, NOTL was not able to convert those scoring opportunities to a goal,” Dyck said.
He and the rest of the coaching staff, head coach Tim Marotta and assistant Jim Denham, were full of praise for the players.
Marotta said all season the team’s goaltending tandem was the backbone of the team and he credited Gruosso and Theo VanderKaay for again keeping the Wolves in every game versus Fort Erie.
With 12 of the team’s 18 player “retiring” from minor hockey after this season, the team has had a memorable finish.
There is still one more big task on horizon.
Along with Fort Erie, the Wolves qualified for the Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship tourney in Barrie this weekend.
They kick things off Friday with an 8 a.m. game against the South Muskoka Bears and a 1 p.m. match with the Napanee Stars.