It’s fitting that it came down to one shot.
And that shot turned into the biggest goal of his young career for Soo Greyhounds forward Jack Kopacka.
The veteran forward beat Kitchener Rangers goaltender Mario Culina 5-hole from the high slot to give the Greyhounds a 4-3 double overtime win in game seven of the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference final. The team advances to the OHL final against the Hamilton Bulldogs, set to begin Thursday night at the Essar Centre.
“I cut to the middle of the ice and just put (the puck) on net,” Kopacka said. “When you do that in overtime, good things happen, and it went in.”
“I didn’t see it go in or the red light go on,” Kopacka also said. “I just heard the crowd and their goalie froze. I turned around and saw everyone jumping off the bench. It was really exciting.”
The Greyhounds overcame a late goal by Rangers defenceman Logan Stanley in the final minute of regulation that forced overtime.
“There’s a lot of belief in our group that we can overcome anything,” Kopacka said. “We have all year. We didn’t let it take the wind out of our sails. We stayed positive.”
The teams traded goals throughout the game. Boris Katchouk paced the Greyhounds with two goals and an assist while Morgan Frost added a goal and two assists. Kopacka also had a multi-point night with an assist on Katchouk’s second goal.
Matthew Villalta made 33 saves for the Greyhounds.
“He played really well,” Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister said. “Overall both goalies played exceptional.”
At the other end, Mario Culina made 37 saves.
“He’s been the backbone of our team since he arrived,” Rangers Coach Jay McKee said of the Sault product. “He’s come a long way this year.”
“Mario kept us in this game,” McKee added.
Jonathan Yantsis and Rickard Hugg also scored for the Rangers.
Both coaches spoke to the fact that the result stemmed from a game in which both teams “left it all out on the ice.”
“It’s unfortunate that there had to be a loser in that game,” Bannister said. “Both teams competed hard and left it all out on the ice.”
“I couldn’t ask for anything more from our players,” McKee said. “They left everything out there. True success isn’t in the result. It’s in knowing that you can look at yourself in the mirror after the game and say you gave everything you had.”
After a second round series against the Owen Sound Attack that Bannister said made the Greyhounds a better team, the series with the Rangers had a similar effect.
“Each series you go through, you learn a lot about yourself,” Bannister said. “There’s pressure on our kids and they’ve handled it really well. Kitchener made us a better hockey team in this series. It’s going to help us moving forward.”
After Thursday’s series opener against Hamilton, game two is Saturday night, also at the Essar Centre. The series then shifts to Hamilton for games three and four on May 7 and 9 respectively. If necessary, game five is May 11 in Sault Ste. Marie, game six is May 13 in Hamilton and game seven is back in Sault Ste. Marie on May 14.