ROGERS OHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES – GAME 4:
SAULT STE. MARIE 3 – HAMILTON 2 – OT
Series tied 2-2
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Noah Carroll (3) took advantage of an opportunity at his own blue line, beating a dark jersey to go in alone and put a backhand deke through the legs of Hamilton’s Kaden Fulcher to give the Soo Greyhounds a 3-2 overtime road win in Game 4.
An overage defenceman, Carroll emerged as the unlikely hero 9:13 into OT with a goal he won’t soon forget, sending the Rogers OHL Championship Series back to Sault Ste. Marie tied up at two.
“It’s by far the nicest goal I’ve scored,” said Carroll with a laugh. “I’m not known for being a goal-scorer so it’s always nice to be able to get that one for the guys who worked sixty-plus minutes. Nice to be able to give back to those forwards.”
The winner came after the Hounds were outshot 26-12 through the third period and overtime, holding on thanks to some timely saves by goaltender Matthew Villalta.
“It was nice to see Matty bounce back,” said Hounds head coach Drew Bannister. “We need to see him continue to give us that kind of edge moving forward and make the big saves when we need him to when we’re on our heels.”
The Greyhounds took an early lead in Game 4 as a pair of Tampa Bay Lightning prospects hooked up in the opening minute of play. Taylor Raddysh stripped a Hamilton defender of a puck down low in the offensive zone, centering for a waiting Boris Katchouk for his league-leading 17th goal of the playoffs.
Hamilton would draw even late in the first, taking advantage of a Sault Ste. Marie turnover as the Hounds tried to exit their zone. Robert Thomas flipped through the slot to Nicholas Caamano (8) who tied things up at one shorthanded.
The Greyhounds climbed back into the lead early in the second period as Jack Kopacka (12) entered the zone and pushed the puck in deep, eventually banking a low percentage shot past the short side of Fulcher to bring a hush over the 8,603 at FirstOntario Centre.
Up 2-1 after a very strong second period, the Greyhounds hit three goalposts in the opening five minutes of the third period, failing to extend their lead before the Bulldogs took over.
Florida Panthers prospect Riley Stillman (4) ripped a slapshot past Villalta with 11:08 left in the third to tie the score at two. Rookie forward Arthur Kaliyev drew a primary assist, getting the puck back to Stillman at the point before his shot found a way through traffic.
The Bulldogs had ample opportunity to pull ahead but couldn’t solve Villalta or the numerous sprawling bodies in front of him, sacrificing to block shots and take away lanes as the Greyhounds were on their heels for much of the third and into overtime.
Carroll seized his opportunity and made no mistake, scoring a goal that could potentially change the course of the series.
“It’s a best-of-three at this point,” said Bulldogs captain Justin Lemcke after the loss. “We’ve got to go into their building now, stick to a game plan and outcompete them.”
Hamilton head coach John Gruden noted his team had some lapses throughout the game but came away pleased with the effort, noting that anything can happen when a game goes to overtime.
“We had a great opportunity here but now we’re going to travel tomorrow and we’re going to go get ready for a great environment in Game 5,” he said. “We have to do what we need to do, be the Hamilton Bulldogs, and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Matthew Villalta earned second star honours turning aside 45 shots as the Greyhounds were outshot 47-31 in the win.
The Bulldogs drew a total of 15,952 fans to FirstOntario Centre over Games 3 and 4 of the series as the scene now shifts back to the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie for Game 5 on Friday.