“That game was hard to describe.”
Those were the words of Sarnia Sting head coach Dave MacQueen after watching his team skate to a 6-5 win over the pesky Niagara IceDogs, Friday night before a season-high crowd of 4,007 fans at the RBC Centre.
The big crowd watched a back-and-forth game from start to finish. Three times the Sting held two-goal leads of 3-1, 5-3 and 6-4, but Niagara would not go down without a fight.
In fact Niagara thought they had scored just as time had expired in regulation time after a wild scramble around the Sting goal. But after the officials checked with video review, they decided the puck did not cross the line before time had expired.
“The puck did go in, but it was just a matter of when,” said MacQueen. “I thought I heard the buzzer and the referee waved the goal off. We’ve had things like that go against us so it’s nice to see one go for us.”
Fans were in a festive mood for the 13th annual Teddy Bear Toss. So the Sting didn’t disappoint them as Nick Latta scored just 2:59 into the game. It took only a matter of seconds before 3,020 fans were tossed on the ice surpassing the old record of just over 2,700.
“We don’t have anything like this in Germany,” said Latta, when asked about the goaland the events after the goal.
“After I scored, I turned around and went wow. I’d never seen that many bears at one time. It was pretty awesome.”
He described the goal.
“We went in on the forecheck and we were able to get the puck. Kale Kerbashian fed me a pass in the slot and I was able to put the puck in the top corner of the net.” That set off a series of twists and turns the rest of the game. Momentum seemed to go back and forth as Sarnia scored four power play goals and Niagara two.
Sarnia never trailed in the game as they led 3-1 after the first period and 5-4 after the second. After going up 6-4 eight minutes into period three Niagara cut the lead to one at 14:28.
The Sting was also forced to kill off a seven-minute power play in the second period where they did an outstanding job allowing only three shots on goal.
“We came out strong and that first goal gave us some energy,” said MacQueen. “I thought five-on-five we were fine. But because of all the momentum breakers we let them hang around. We figured the game was over late in the third period, but one poor decision puts them right back into it.” MacQueen was happy with his special teams.
“Special teams were obviously the key. We worked on our power play for two full days at practice and got rewarded. Our penalty kill was very good especially that seven minute kill in the second period. It was part of the turning point. The thing was we did a real good job and only allowed a couple of shots over the seven minutes.”
Kerbashian and Nail Yakupov led the Sting offence as Kerbashian had two goals and two assists while Yakupov had a goal and three assists. Joe Rogalski had a two and two assists while Brett Ritchie had one goal.
“They (Niagara) have three good lines and didn’t stop,” said Kerbashian. “Our goal was to stay out of the penalty box, but we really didn’t do that. Our power play was hot as we tried a new formation. I thought we worked hard.”
Sarnia started the game with 11 forwards, but lost Dean Pawlaczyk in the second period when he was given a game misconduct for being the aggressor in a fight. He came to the rescue after Kerbashian was crushed into the end boards. Forward Garrett Hooey was already suspended for taking his helmet off in a fight last week.
“We had a short bench in the third period,” said MacQueen. “We had to do some line juggling. With all the special teams, some guys didn’t get to play a lot especially in the second period.”
John Cullen got the win in goal for the Sting as he made 31 saves. John Chartrand made only 14 stops in goal for Niagara.
Ryan Strome led Niagara with two goals while Steven Shipley, Freddie Hamilton and Dylan MacEachern counted singles.
The win improved Sarnia’s overall in the Ontario Hockey League to 12-11-3-1. Sarnia’s next action is Saturday night in Erie while they play in Brampton Sunday afternoon. Sarnia’s next home game is a week Saturday against Windsor.
– Kerbashian was first star with Yakupov second star and Strome third star. Kerbashian now has 17 goals and Yakupov 20.
– Sarnia finished four-for-seven on the power play and Niagara two-for-10.
– Two former Sting stars served as assistant coaches in last night’s game. Trevor Letowski for the Sting and Mike Van Ryn for Niagara. Van Ryn played only one season for the Sting (1999-2000) before joining the National Hockey League. He retired after last season from the Toronto Maple Leafs due to knee problems.
– Although a final total was not available, over 36,000 bears have been collected over the 13 years of the Teddy Bear Toss. They will be donated to 13 charities throughout the community, led by the Salvation Army.
– Sarnia’s home record improved to 8-5-0-1.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.
Photo by Barry Wright