They saved some of their best hockey for when it mattered most and now the Soo Greyhounds have an opportunity to advance to the Ontario Hockey League final.
The Greyhounds skated to a 7-3 win over the Kitchener Rangers in game five of their Western Conference final series Friday night at the Essar Centre.
The win gives the Greyhounds a 3-2 series lead heading to game six on Sunday afternoon in Kitchener.
“We showed a real sense of urgency, something we probably haven’t shown in the series yet,” said Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister. “We were loose but responsible in the way we played. That was probably our best performance of the series.”
Jack Kopacka scored three times and assisted on another goal to pace the Greyhounds offensively.
“That was a big confidence booster tonight for me,” Kopacka said, adding that he felt he “struggled in games three and four.”
Defenceman Jacob LeGuerrier added a pair of goals while Keeghan Howdeshell had a goal and an assist. Tim Gettinger also scored for the Greyhounds. Jordan Sambrook assisted on a pair of Sault goals.
“Our top players were really good but our secondary guys up front and on our back end were excellent for us tonight,” Bannister said.
Greyhounds goaltender Matthew Villalta made 17 saves.
Friday’s game was a disappointing one from a Rangers standpoint.
“The Sault brought their A-game and we probably brought our C-game,” said Rangers Coach Jay McKee. “At this point in the series, if you don’t bring your best game, you’re not going to win.”
McKee credited the Greyhounds compete level in the game.
“Their compete was high, they were sharp, and their passing was on,” McKee said of the Greyhounds. “They played intense.
“They brought everything they had,” McKee added. “We were the exact opposite.”
Kole Sherwood had a goal and an assist for the Rangers while Logan Brown and Nick McHugh also scored.
Goaltender Mario Culina made 37 saves for the Rangers.
The Greyhounds lost defenceman Rasmus Sandin in the third period after an incident in the neutral zone with Sherwood.
Bannister said the league would get a copy of the game tape with the incident.
The game also say Boris Katchouk leave for a short period in the third after being speared by Logan Stanley in the Rangers zone. Rangers forward Givani Smith also drew attention after going hard to the net and running into Villalta.
“There were some pretty chippy hits that the league will be viewing,” Bannister said. “We’ll let them deal with that.”
Both teams will look to refocus heading into Sunday.
“We have to forget about this game as quickly as possible, go to bed tonight, get some rest and refocus ourselves for game six,” Bannister said. “It’s going to be the toughest game of the series. The compete level raises. Teams are very aware of their systems. There’s not a lot of space so we’re going to have to compete for space and create space and play our type of hockey.”
For the Rangers, the approach to game six is to look back at the opening four games of the series.
“The message is that it’s the same two teams playing game six that played in the first four games when we played really well and gave ourselves a chance to win every game,” McKee said. “The two games we had at home, we controlled the play most of the two games. The message is to go back to thinking about and doing the things we did, whether it’s the way we prepared, the routine and getting into the mindset of playing well at home again.”
In the Eastern Conference final, the Hamilton Bulldogs advanced thanks to a 2-1 victory on home ice over the Kingston Frontenacs on Thursday night to win the series in five games. Connor Walters had the game-winner for the Bulldogs in the third period. Kingston goaltender Jeremy Helvig made 36 saves.