Say what you want about Joel Scherban, when he makes a decision, he sticks by it.
Facing elimination Friday night at the hands of the visiting Guelph Gryphons, the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey coach shocked the Fort William Gardens faithful by yanking often troubled star forward Matt Caria from the lineup, a healthy scratch in what could have been LU's final game of the year.
After the game, a well-played 5-1 rout for the Thunderwolves that knotted the best-of-three series at a game apiece, Scherban had little to say about why Caria didn't play.
"It's just an internal decision, nothing beyond that, really," said Scherban, who has now disciplined the Sault Ste. Marie sniper three times this season – once during pre-season play along with four other teammates, once for uttering a racial slur toward a Western player and now again in the post-season for unspecified reasons.
"It was just a tough decision we had to make and we made it," Scherban said, when pressed for answers. "It's just something we're going to keep internal and I thought we played a great game tonight."
On that point it would be hard to argue with the third-year coach.
Mike Hammond and Jake Carrick scored shorthanded goals in the second and third period, respectively, Keith Grondin netted a pair and Mike Quesnesle blasted a low shot early in the first that beat Guelph's Cody St. Jacques, setting the stage for Saturday night's decisive Game 3.
"I thought it might be our most complete game of the year. We had everyone going and everyone executed our systems. We forechecked extremely hard, we were able to finish our checks and I thought we were good in all three zones," Scherban said.
On the defensive end, it was all Alex Dupuis. Coming off a bit of a stinker on Wednesday – though admittedly three of the goals he surrendered weren't exactly of the textbook variety – Dupuis kept the Gryphons at bay, especially in the third when they out-shot the Wolves 18-11.
Not one puck found its way past Dupuis as Lakehead clung to a two-goal cushion for most of the period.
"I thought he played extremely well," Scherban said.
"He's been exceptional all year and we have a ton of confidence in him and we thought he would play like that tonight."
With Caria benched, the Wolves needed to look elsewhere for offence, and found it from a trio of rookies, led by a pair from Grondin, a rookie who had nine goals in the regular season.
The Winnipeg native admitted he felt the nerves coming into a do-or-die situation, but did his best to look past the butterflies.
"It's playoff hockey, so I just tried to create energy and get the guys going and fired up and was lucky enough to do that," he said.
Starting strong was the key to forgetting Wednesday's disappointment, having built a 4-1 lead only to allow four straight and fall 5-4 on the road.
"Yeah it was big for our team, especially down 1-0 in the series. You need to get that first shift or those first couple of shifts and get a couple of hits in, get the boys into it, get the crowd into it and just go from there," Grondin said.
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The freshman forward picked up his first point on Quesnele's opening goal, which gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead at 5:21 of the first, the only goal of the period.
Mike Hammond and Carrick found themselves on a two-man, shorthanded breakaway in the first two minutes of the second and the former beat St. Jacques to make it 2-0. Edward Gale pulled Guelph to within a goal on the power play midway through the second, but Grondin slammed home his first of the night to restore the two-goal Thunderwolves lead.
Carrick broke free on another shorthanded situation and potted insurance with just over two minutes to play in the third, and Grondin wrapped things up with less than a second on the clock to force Saturday night's Game 3.
Claw marks: Waterloo fell 7-4 to Brock on Friday and were swept from the playoffs. In other OUA action, Ottawa eliminated Nipissing with a 3-1 win and McGill knocked off Queen's 5-1, ending their season. In the only other game, Western nudged Laurier 2-1 to advance to Round 2 ... Heading into this season only four times had an LU player crossed the 100-penalty minute threshold in a season, counting non-conference and playoff games. This season the Wolves have three players over the mark. Caria has 116, Carrick has 122 and Quesnele, with three minors on Friday, is at 130 and within striking distance of Sean Stefanski's single-season mark of 144, set in 2004-05. Andrew Brown, Jordan Smith and Aaron Piccinin are the others ... Scherban said he and the coaching staff would discuss Caria's status for Saturday night's contest.
Follow Leith Dunick on Twitter: @LeithDunick
Scoring. Lakehead, Quesnele 1 (Wilkins, Grondin) 5:21. Penalties: Belan GUE (cross checking) 5:36, Menard LAK (elbowing) 9:50, Welsh LAK (double minor, roughing), Quensnele LAK (roughing) Wilkins LAK (misconduct), Jefferies GUE (roughing), Brook GUE (roughing), Belan GUE (misconduct) 20:00.
Scoring: 2. Lakehead, Hammond 1 (Carrick) 1:57 sh. 3. Guelph, Gale (Martine, Lyall) 10:42 pp. 4. Lakehead, Grondin 1 (Wilkins, Quesnele) 14:01. Penalties: Gvora GUE (delay of game) 3:39, Quesnele LAK (roughing) 8:51, Gamache LAK (roughing) 14:20, Belan GUE (cross checking) 15:23,
Scoring: 5. Lakehead, Carrick 2 (Maunu) 17:48 sh. 6. Lakehead, Grondin 2 (Menard, Hammond) 19:59. Penalties: Quesnele LAK (cross checking) 17:14, Gale GUE (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct)18:25.
GAME DATA – SOG – Guelph 9-11-19-38, Lakehead 10-11-11-32; Power plays (goals-chances) – Guelph (1-5), Lakehead (1-4); Goaltenders – Guelph: Cody St. Jacques, Lakehead: Alex Dupuis; A: 2,524.
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