The SHL playoffs are finally here and game one of both the semi-final series were just as exciting and nerve-wracking as anticipated. A broken Zamboni had a lot of players and league representatives worried about subpar ice conditions, but luckily, the games could be played as scheduled.
The opening game of the evening between first-seed AWARE and fourth-place Hertz saw both teams come out with lots of energy. The red AWARE team swarmed the Hertz net and peppered goalie Dream Ungkulpattanasuk with shots. Hard pressure on the Hertz defense in the fourth minute of the game provided an opportunity for AWARE’s Bill Bredesen in the slot and he fired a quick backhand far side to put his team up 1-0, assisted by Devin Michael.
Hertz came right back however and scored on the next shift and their first shot of the game when Thai national team defenseman Champ Supadilokluk found Stephen Sproule at the blue line and he slid the puck diagonally to Darius Konotopetz for a one-timer that fooled Aware goalie Patrick Leduc. The rest of the period was all about AWARE, or rather all about Hertz goalie Dream, as he continued to make several key saves to keep the score even.
The second period started like the first period ended, with Dream standing on his head to keep his team in the game. After minutes of relentless pressure by AWARE without managing to score, Hertz speedster Mangkorn Sukwiboon skated the puck out of his own zone and fired a slap shot from just outside the AWARE blue line that leaked through Patrick Leduc for a 2-1 Hertz lead. Dream continued to see a lot of rubber the rest of the period and looked unbeatable at times, stopping several grade A chances in-tight, a slapshot from Captain Patrik Lundback and a penalty shot by Phu Suwachirat. AWARE would finally get the equalizer at the end of the period when Christian Olofsson and Harrison Oztemel double-teamed to keep the puck in the Hertz zone and found Bill Bredesen who potted his second backhand goal of the game to tie things up at 2-2 to end the second period.
The third and final act saw wave after wave of AWARE offence, followed by the odd counterattack by a defensively solid Hertz team anchored by Dream in net. Juhani Iljas, cheered on by his son in the stands, looked destined to break through on several occasions only to be stopped by Dream. With just one minute left in the third period, Harrison Oztemel was sent in on a semi-breakaway but his shot ended up deflected over the net and started a Hertz counter attack the other way, led by Andy Brine and Captain Justin St Denis, as the clock was winding down and Stephen Sproule streaking in from just behind the play. With just 38 seconds left, Justin dropped the puck and Sproule fired a low shot along the ice that found the back of the net for the eventual game winner. Mr GWG, Stephen Sproule, proved once again that he is pure money in the late stages of important games. A desperate AWARE team pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker but were unable to create anything in the dying seconds.
Hertz skated away with a 1-0 series lead, in the best of three semi-final round. Much deservingly, Hertz goaltender Dream Ungkulpattanasuk earned himself another free meal as he was voted the Rolling Stone Pizza player-of-the-game for his exceptional performance between the pipes.
Patrick Leduc turned away 15 of the 18 shots he faced in the AWARE net, while Dream saved 32 of the 34 pucks fired at him in the Hertz jersey. Game two will be played on Thursday, March 7th at 9:30PM in a must win for AWARE if they want to keep their season alive. Admission is free and the games take place at the Rink, 7th floor, Central Plaza Grand Rama IX.
In game two, both teams were ready to play from the get-go and both defenses looked strong, limiting scoring chances early on. TRUE’s captain, Mike Wilson, started things off when he received a pass form Ith Vatanapanyakul with just four-and-a-half-minutes left in the first period.
Two minutes into the second period, TRUE’s Adrian Meyers found the back of the net with an unassisted goal. Corry Day of the Novotel Spitfires brought the game back within one again after some tic-tac-toe passing from Ken Kindborn and Michael White. Then, Jordan Ashton fired one past Yves Gaboriault after receiving a pass from Jesse Starosta to put TRUE up by two again. Day scored his second of the night when on a breakaway he fired at Lance Parker, picked up his own rebound to put in in, reducing TRUE’s lead to 3-2. Eddie McConnell of the Spitfires tied things up with 5:45 left in the second period. But, a minute later TRUE took the lead again when Ashton buried the puck in the back of the net, making it 4-3, going into the second intermission.
With two minutes left in the game, the Novotel Spitfires pulled Gaboriault to try and tie it up and force overtime, but with just 35 seconds left, Mike Wilson sent the puck down the rink and into the net to finish things off. The Rolling Stone Pizza Player of the Game went to Jordan Ashton his two goals on the night.
Game two will be played on Thursday, March 7th at
For more information on the SHL check out Dom Dumais great podcasts and interviews with SHL players.