Forty-eight minutes and 19 seconds into the contest, there wasn’t much to differentiate between the two teams.
Both the Tillsonburg Hutchison Insurance AE Atoms and their Ayr counterparts played hard, had their share of chances, were denied by great saves, and found the back of the net.
In the end, Ayr would do so one more time, 8:19 into an exciting 10-minute overtime period.
“I’m proud of our team’s effort today, unfortunately we came out on the wrong end,” summed up Tillsonburg coach Jeff Holman following a 3-2 SCMHA B Championship loss in overtime.
“It’s all part of hockey – somebody’s gotta’ win, somebody’s gotta’ lose.”
Ayr’s Tristan Ward had opened scoring at the 4:42 mark of the opening period, assisted by Jakob Dugal. Tillsonburg’s Joel Gardham scored his first of two on the game with exactly two minutes remaining in the frame, helped out by Ethan Scruton. The same combination, supported via a second assist from Jack Main, eased the Hutchison Insurance AE atoms into a 2-1 lead with 10:31 to play in the third, shortly after a two-minute minor penalty to Ayr for tripping had expired. The lead stood up for 2:49, when Ward took advantage of a breakaway caused by a Tillsonburg defenceman losing his stick and having to head to his bench for a replacement.
Tillsonburg captain Steve Lee came close to scoring a Bobby Orr-esque highlight reel goal with 6:39 left in regulation time. Driving hard to the net, he was hauled down, but got off a hard shot just wide, while in a horizontal, rather than vertical position. Lee also set up Connor Roberts in the slot on the ensuing power play for a backhander that went just wide of the post.
Roughly offsetting penalties to Ayr (2:52 mark) and Tillsonburg (3:05) early in overtime, opened up the ice for Ayr’s Nathan Ritchie, a diminutive but speedy forward. He deked around two Hutchison Insurance defenders with 6:25 remaining in the extra (10-minute) period, getting off a hard wrist shot labeled for the top, right-hand corner.
Tillsonburg goalie Kyle Nesplic was equal to the task, snagging and hanging onto the puck with a lightning-quick gloved hand.
“I just went for it and it went into my glove,” he recalled.
Ritchie would prove an ongoing thorn in Tillsonburg’s collective side, drawing a hooking penalty with 3:47 remaining, before being denied by another Nesplic glove save. The Hutchison Insurance AE atoms had a golden opportunity to end the game short-handed as Connor Roberts was sent into the clear via a breakaway pass.
The Tillsonburg sniper got everything he wanted on the shot, a drive headed for the top, right corner of the Ayr net. Goaltender Hunter Guttenjohn couldn’t come up with it cleanly, but got enough of the shot to re-direct it safely high and wide.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, Roberts appeared unable to speak, but did nod his head in response to both questions, A) was it going in? and B) had it been a good save?
“If I had wanted it on anybody’s stick there, it was Connor’s,” credited Holman.
Ritchie would end the game with 1:41 remaining in overtime, driving hard to the net in arrears of a teammate’s shot. Nesplic sprawled to make the initial save, but Richtie was able to lift the rebound home.
Obvious disappointment emanated from the Tillsonburg ranks, but there was also a measure of philosophical acceptance.
“We had fun and we played a good game,” summed up Lee.
“We all tried our hardest,” agreed Colin Rongits, adding the season itself had also been a productive one. “We all stepped up from the start of the season, we got better as we played.”
“An awesome season,” agreed Holman. “This team has done nothing but progress as the year has gone on. They’ve played well all year and developed as a team all year.
“They’ve been a great group to coach.”