When push came to shove in overtime Wednesday night, all the Tillsonburg Hogarth Insurance AE atoms needed was a little push.
Tillsonburg had taken a 2-1 second-period lead in the Southern Counties Minor Hockey A semifinal, but Ayr crashed back to equalize later in the second, then went ahead 3-2 early in the third. Braxton VanRybroeck tied it up with 8:17 left in regulation and the Tornadoes were buzzing around the Ayr net in the final 5-6 minutes.
Still tied after three, they were potentially looking at up to three sudden-death overtime periods. But they only needed one, and more specifically, just 1:43 of the first overtime.
Tillsonburg's Nathan Holman jammed home the game-winner to send the Hogarth Insurance AEs into the Southern Counties A final in Simcoe on March 30 where they will play the winner of the Glanbrook-Simcoe semifinal.
"I just pushed it in the net," said Holman, who was the first to get his stick on the puck during a frantic goalmouth scramble. "The goalie didn't have it, so I just pushed it."
Holman recalled teammate Braxton VanRybroeck passing to Jack Soares, who passed to Holman in the slot.
"I shot and it didn't go in – it hit the goalie," said Holman. "So I pushed it in."
The puck was visible the entire time, he said.
"I just keep going until the whistle... that's what I did."
The Hogarth Insurance AE atoms had played Ayr a couple weeks ago, said Hogarth Insurance coach Eric MacFadden, recalling a close game. He expected more of the same at the Kinsmen Memorial Arena Wednesday night.
"The top four or five teams are all pretty close. Whoever wanted it more was going to win that game," said MacFadden. "Ayr played a good game. We had one little lapse late in the second period, when we gave up a power play. But the guys dug deep. The kids played well – really well."
"Great game by Tristin (Zeller)," said Holman, praising his goalie. "Their goalie played pretty good too."
"Their goalie played well, our goalie played well, it was awesome," nodded MacFadden, who didn't make any major changes going into overtime.
"Near the end (of the third) we had started switching things up, but in overtime we went back to what we did at the start, we started rolling all our lines. We didn't get that far into it, but that was the plan."
Tillsonburg and Glanbrook were the top two seeded teams in the Southern Counties A Division playoffs. Both teams had 6-0 records going into last Sunday's head-to-head match, a 1-0 Glanbrook win, which set up Wednesday's 2nd vs 3rd Tillsonburg-Ayr semifinal.
"Glanbrook's a really challenging team," Holman credited. "They challenge us a lot – they crash the net and play one-high."
Holman said the Tornadoes counter by also crashing the net. "And we pass."
Southern Counties Playoffs
Tuesday, March 25: Tillsonburg at Glanbrook, 6 p.m.
March 19: Tillsonburg 4, Ayr 3 OT
Sunday, March 30: Tillsonburg vs Glanbrook/Simcoe, at Simcoe, 11:45 a.m.
March 19: Tillsonburg at Ayr
Sunday, March 23: Tillsonburg at Tavistock, 4 p.m.
Friday, March 21: Tillsonburg at Ayr, 9:30 p.m.