Nationals Fall in Game 7 Overtime Thriller
London Nationals HockeyGreg Bowman
The Waterloo Siskins have been crowned Sutherland Cup Champions after beating the London Nationals 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday night in Game 7 of the Championship series. It is the 12th title for the Waterloo Siskins, but their first since 1994.
There was an energy at the Western Fair Sports Centre like no other for Game 7. The rink normally draws fairly large crowds, but the final game of the season had a different energy. The parking lot was packed an hour before puck drop, and fans were still filing in well into the first period.
After dropping Game 5 of the series on their own home ice, the London Nationals responded in a big way in Game 6, which was played just over 12 hours later. They scored early and often, extending the series to seven games with a 5-1 win.
The energy that filled the arena did not necessarily transfer onto the ice in the opening minutes of the game. Players’ nerves and the magnitude of the match clearly resulted in the teams taking a tentative approach to one another. There was an odd close scoring chance, but defence was the focus of both sides, with the opening 10 minutes seeing only a couple of high-quality scoring chances combined. London jumped out to an early lead in the shot clock, registering seven on the goal of Matt Onuska before Zach Springer stopped one. The Siskins picked up their offence later in the period though, evening out the shot total, with the Nationals leading 13-12 after the first period.
After a scoreless first period, the faithful at the Western Fair District Sports Centre were finally given something to cheer about early in the second. The Nationals found themselves on an early powerplay—the first of the game for either team—and wasted no time, with Cal Davis redirecting a Noah Tooke point shot to score Game 7’s first goal. It was Davis’s third goal of the playoffs, after leading the Nationals in scoring during the regular season. The Nationals’ powerplay had also struggled against the Siskins in the series, with their conversion rate dropping below 20%. The Siskins appeared to gain some life after giving up the opening goal, ramping up their offensive pressure in the shifts following the goal. The second period was wide open, with end-to-end rushes and few whistles. Despite the first six games of the series being penalty-filled affairs, the final game saw no such officiating. The lone penalty through the first 40 minutes resulted in London’s only goal. Late in the second period, the Siskins were rewarded for their efforts, with Curtis Rawn tapping home a pass in front of the net with six seconds remaining in the period. It was Rawn’s eighth of the playoffs, and it made it a new game heading into the final 20 minutes of the tilt.
Giving up a goal in the final minute of a period is often a backbreaker. What was once a lead heading into the break is now a tie game, and the Siskins were given new life. The Nationals made a point of quickly remedying that in the third period, scoring just 10 seconds in. Cal Davis was sprung on a short breakaway and he out-waited Onuska and tucked the puck around his pad. Davis had not yet scored in the series but had both of his team’s goals. The Nationals parked the bus from there on out. They had a light forecheck and were content to block anything and everything that was thrown towards the net. Five minutes left in the third period, James Turner was called for a hooking penalty, giving the Siskins their first powerplay of the game. Sam Spaedt converted a one-timer in front of the net to knot the game up 2-2 late in the third period. London had a couple of late chances to get the go-ahead goal, but somewhat fittingly for the series, Game 7 went to overtime.
At 15:30 in the first overtime period, Alec Tiley of Waterloo sent a point shot on goal that took a deflection and beat Zach Springer to send the Siskins—players and fans alike—into a frenzy.
The Waterloo Siskins entered the playoffs as the third seed in the Midwestern Conference, and won their way to a GOJHL title. They are the best of the 25 teams in the league for the 2018-19 season.
As for the Nationals, they come up short in another championship series. They have fought for the title three of the past four years but have not won since 2013. The Nationals will continue to be a powerhouse in the GOJHL though. They are the second-largest city to house a team and have tremendous recruiting and development within their system. Their dedicated fans will continue to stand by their side, as they will continue to fight for the Sutherland Cup for years to come.
Photography: Navaneeth Mohan