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Last-second goal lifts London to 3-2 win and OHL championship 0

By Stephen Sweet, Special to QMI Agency

LONDON - 

If there’s a tougher way to lose, it hasn’t happened yet.

The Barrie Colts, despite missing two-thirds of their top line and nursing a number of other bad injuries, looked destined for overtime in Game 7 of the OHL Championship finals.

But then one bad bounce led to a horrifying finish.

“I saw the goal at the last second,” said Colts defenceman Alex Lepkowski, who was on the bench in the dying moments. “I didn’t see it go in, but…

“Yeah. It’s hockey, I guess.”

A miscommunication between Aaron Ekblad and Erik Bradford saw the puck wind up on Bo Horvat’s stick, and he slid it towards the goal line.

Barrie starter Mathias Niederberger appeared to get a glove on it before it crossed the line, causing the official on the ice to wave the goal off.

But the video goal judge believed the puck to be over the line, and with one second left, London had its 3-2 win and OHL championship in hand.

“We battled so hard and we were so close,” said Colts defenceman Jonathan Laser. “We battled hard today and it was just unlucky at the end.

“Everyone’s a little down right now.”

As the Knights raced towards their goaltender to celebrate, the Colts looked around, dumbfounded.

Eventually, they made their way over to Niederberger and the crease, where they sort of formed an impromptu circle.

“When something happens like that, you want to sink into the floor a little bit and that’s what kind of happened to us there,” Lepkowski said. “(Going to the crease) was sort of a spur of the moment kind of thing.”

They consoled Niederberger, who once again looked like the goaltender that carried Barrie to the finals, as he made 45 saves on Monday, with many being of the outstanding variety.

“He’s one of my best friends and he’s probably the best goalie in the league,” Lepkowski said. “For him to be so poised, he’s such a leader back there.”

Niederberger had to be great, as the Knights had the far better chances in the first two periods, pouring 39 shots on the German goaltender while the Colts could only muster 17 attempts on London’s Jake Patterson, many of which were from a distance.

It was why Niederberger was the first teammate the Colts went to acknowledge.

“We just told him we were proud of him,” Laser said. “He was our backbone back there and we told him to keep his head held high.”

Horvat successfully completed a 2-on-1 in the first before Andreas Athanasiou took a nice pass from Zach Hall on Barrie’s lone power play to even the score.

Olli Maatta gave London a 2-1 advantage after 40 minutes, but not before Niederberger dove across the crease to rob Alex Broadhurst of what looked like a sure goal.

“That one strong save he made, it better make the Top 10 (plays of the week),” Lepkowski said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that in a series like this.”

London went back into its defensive system in the third, and even without Mark Scheifele, who did not travel with the team due to an upper-body injury, or the suspended Anthony Camara, Barrie pressed on.

“Obviously it hurt missing those guys, but I think we had a great effort today and we all stepped up,” Laser said.

Mitchell Theoret tied the game with 2:53 to go when he took a loose puck off of a faceoff and beat Patterson high.

Josh MacDonald nearly pulled the Colts in front moments later, but after video review, the puck was deemed to have hit the crossbar, twice in fact, but never did cross the line.

The video review would not be kind to Barrie again at the end, as Horvat’s goal happened so late that there was no time left for a comeback.

Horvat, who had 16 goals in the playoffs, including a pair tonight, was named the playoff MVP, ahead of Barrie’s Scheifele, who led all players with 41 points in 21 contests.

While London will head to Saskatoon on Wednesday to play the Memorial Cup’s curtain-raiser on Friday night, the Colts will head home and try to understand the toughest loss of their lives.

“It stings and it hurts right now,” Lepkowski said. “I’m not even sure how it makes sense.

“But I’m proud of every single guy and I wouldn’t have wanted to go to battle with anyone else,” Lepkowski added. “I’d still pick this team to go to a championship again.”

barrie.sports@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/stephen_sweet

ICE CHIPS:

No Scheifele – The Colts were without the services of their leading point-getter in Monday’s playoff finale. Mark Scheifele took a hard hit from Knights winger Josh Anderson early in the third period of Game 6 and left the ice in pain. He played two more shifts afterwards, but was very limited and did not make the trip to London. Scheifele finished first in the OHL playoff scoring race with 15 goals and 26 assists in just 21 contests.

Twice in a lifetime – Before tonight, both the Barrie Colts and London Knights have played in one championship-deciding Game 7 in their respective franchise’s history. Barrie won the 2000 OHL title on the road in Plymouth with a 4-2 victory in Game 7, with Tim Verbeek scoring the game-winner and an insurance marker. London, meanwhile, was blown out 9-2 by Belleville in the deciding contest of the 1999 finals. Jonathan Cheechoo scored five goals for the Bulls while Justin Papineau had a goal and five assists to bring his playoff-leading points total to 51.

Not dressed for tonight’s game: Barrie was without the services of Mark Scheifele (injured), Anthony Camara (suspension), Michael Webster (injured) and C.J. Garcia. London did not dress Miles Liberati, Corey Pawley, Owen MacDonald, Paxton Leroux or Jacob Jammes.

More Hawk-ey for Portland: The Portland Winterhawks became the third team to book their ticket to the Memorial Cup on Sunday with a 5-1 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings. Ty Rattie, the playoff MVP, had a hat trick, while draft-eligible forward Nic Petan had three assists. The Winterhawks, who took the final in six games, join the Halifax Mooseheads, who are the QMJHL champions, the Knights and the host Saskatoon Blades in the Memorial Cup.

COLTS ON THE SCORE SHEET:

Mitchell Theoret: 1G, 1A

Andreas Athanasiou: 1G

Zach Hall: 1A

Steven Beyers: 1A

Tyson Fawcett: 1A

Mathias Niederberger: 45 saves

How the Ontario Hockey League final shapes up:

Game 1 - Barrie 4 @ London 2

Game 2 - Barrie 1 @ London 4

Game 3 – London 3 @ Barrie 6

Game 4 - London 4 @ Barrie 6

Game 5 - Barrie 4 @ London 6

Game 6 - London 5 @ Barrie 4 (O/T)

Game 7 – Barrie 2 @ London 3

 

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