On Saturday, the Canandaigua Knights Midget team was eliminated from the playoffs in round one. The talk leading up to this match was that Canandaigua would be eliminated easily, but they refused to go down without a fight.
The Knights were seeded sixth, playing the Tri-County Eagles the third best team in the Empire League. History suggested a close match, with a 43.6%* chance of a blowout.(*Rough Metaphorical Math.)
The first contest between the teams this season provided suspense until the very end, with Knights goaltender Ian Campbell fending off a fair amount of shots to hold on to a shutout. 1 – 0 the final score was telling of the amazing defense played by each team, both offenses forcing defensive perfection.
The second go around was more lopsided with the Eagles capitalizing five times on Campbell. All were shots created by passes to the backside. The Eagles’ lateral puck movement sealed the game as they breezed by 5-2.
Going into the third matchup the story was less about the teams skills as their numbers. With injuries to wingers Jack Cutri, and Wyatt Tatakis, the line-up was shaken. To add to the disorientation in the line-up, center Kody Laird, and David Frelier suspended in the last game for fighting. With only eleven skaters slated to show up, would Canandaigua be able to hang with Tri-County’s full roster? [Blaise Michael was not in attendance for undisclosed personal reasons.]
The end of the season wasn’t pretty, another reason the Eagles were favored leading up to the game. In the final regular season game, which team leader Lucas Ruckle called “embarrassing”, the Knights were beaten 8-1 by the Monroe County Eagles. After a thumping the Knights’ confidence was significantly shaken.
“[Man,] Anytime you get beat like that you’re gonna doubt yourself, no doubt,” winger Nicholas Colucci commented.
With that win by the MC Eagles, the Rochester Americans moved to second, and the Knights stayed put in sixth place. They found they were to play the Tri-County Eagles.
Before the playoff game, the Knights had dropped six of seven games, outscored on average 2 to 1. “It definitely gets to you,” says Campbell, regarding the losses. “As a goaltender, you start to over-think all of your movements. You stop trusting teammates to do their job, and everyone’s running around trying to do [everyone else’s] jobs.”
The situation wasn’t bright, with some fans even tweeting their disdain for what they saw as lack of effort. The Knights were feeling the pressure, but, before the playoff game, “I don’t think anyone was doing anything different,” said Assistant Coach Nick van Stralen, filling in for Head Coach Phil Priolo. (Unable to coach due to familial circumstances.) [His son Jared Priolo, a defenseman, also missed the game.] “The guys did a good job ignoring the hype, and stuck to their routines. Colucci was slow dressing, and Trillaud got pumped up with his music. It was business as usual.”
The moment the puck dropped the game was defined. A couple of rushes for both teams, it seemed to be a game of finesse from the Eagles, and hard work from the Knights. A couple of rushes were stymied by both sides, as the game settled into it’s rhythm. “Coach told us before the game we needed to score early,” says Ryan Mack, who led the team in shots. “He also said our forechecking needed to be more aggressive. He wanted to make sure we had short shifts, and just stayed in control of the puck,” Mack says with a smile. Controlling the puck is one of his strengths.
Captain Neale van Stralen was happy with the first period, saying, “Defensively we were solid, Jeff [Frelier] was mixing it up, and we did well offensively, with everyone getting shots. Even Noah [van Stralen]!” he says with a wink at his younger brother. “Without Rog[er Panara] we just didn’t get any real good chances, and they did a great job shutting down Hunter [Goldstin].”
The Knights’ goaltender Campbell was stellar in the first period, looking locked in, always square to the puck, stopping [some unknown amount of] shots.
Going into the second tied at zero was to the Knights advantage says Mack. “… when we huddled during intermission I just told the team ‘Their defense is giving up so many breakaways! Even Timmy [Trost] got one!”–Mack smiles–”Let’s pressure them!’ just trying to get them fired up, you know?”
It was midway through the second period when the first goal was scored by the Eagles. “I feel like I lost the puck a little,” Campbell says. “There were a couple of my D[efensemen] screening me, and actually I didn’t see the guy who came in to jam at the rebound, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get my leg over in time. Kudos to them; great play.”
The score stayed the same as the game wore on, closing the second with the pace of the game shifting. “In the second, I think things shifted,” Coach van Stralen told the team. “With only three defensemen, we were wearing out.”
The game drifted into the third with Campbell fighting off shot after shot as the offense became steadily one-sided. At the six minute mark Tri-County buried a goal that took all the wind out of Canandaigua’s comeback sails.
“It was an unfortunate goal,” Campbell says. “I just misjudged the guy. I thought he was going blocker-side–I think he thought he was going blocker side, and I gave him a little room glove-side, and he took it. Perfect shot, really.”
With the game practically out of reach for Canandaigua, the game finished mostly in the Canandaigua defensive zone. Tri-County’s #15 punched in the final goal, adding insult to injury, making it 3-0. “Number fifteen was really bothering me,” Campbell says. “He took a run at Rolfie [Justin Rolfe], and a slash at [Jake] Corey. I wanted to have a go at him after that third goal.”
With the disappointing loss, Canandaigua can only look forward to next year. “I was talking with Ian,” Lucas Ruckle said, “and we both agreed: Next year is looking good. We’ve got guys getting better everyday on this team, and we’ll only lose three or four guys [after this season], so with the new recruits from Bantam it should be exciting.”
The team finished the regular season 5-11-1, with one playoff loss. A tough season, no doubt, but fun nonetheless. “This is the end of the regular season, so now it’s time to have a little more fun, just playing loose at the tourneys [Big Thaw, NCCYH Steelers]. Time to relax a bit, and enjoy being with the guys.”
With the regular season over, non-league games are the only thing left to focus on for the team. Should be an entertaining last stretch with excellent goaltending, and lots, lots more goals.