To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
The Lakehead Thunderwolves came close Friday night, but couldn’t hold off the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears in non-conference play at Fort William Gardens.
Alberta scored three times in the first six minutes of the third to erase their second two-goal deficit of the night. Defenceman Jordan Rowley capped the comeback at 5:29, scoring on a weak shot that dribbled off the end of Lakehead goalie Justin McDonald’s stick and into the net for the winner.
Jordan Hickmott tallied twice in a 1:26 span in the opening 2:25 of the final stanza to draw Alberta back to even ice, then scored into the empty net to preserve the 7-5 victory.
A win just wasn't in the cards, said LU coach Bill McDonald.
"We were winning by two going into the third. The guys were excited and probably the first two goals of that period were mistakes that we made," McDonald said. "On one of them (defenceman) Jay Gilbert broke his stick and he couldn't get to the bench and it led to a goal.
"And we let a guy go down the side there. I think Adam Restoule let his guy go down the wing and they were back into it. But they're a high-powered team and I have to give our guys credit. I thought we played with great energy. I thought we stuck with them. They really kind of jumped at us in the third."
It was the ninth straight win for Alberta, dating back to pre-season play, though to Lakehead's credit, it tied the most goals the Golden Bears have allowed in a game all season.
"Some of the stuff we've worked on, I can see it tonight," McDonald said. "But again, some of the mistakes we made, against a good team when you make those mistakes, it's in the net. They're as advertised. They're a good team. But I was happy with the way we played. I'm not happy when we lose anytime, but we can hopefully use this as a learning tool and get better."
After staking the Golden Bears to a 1-0 lead early in the first, the Wolves struck back in a hurry, scoring three times in less than seven minutes to stun Alberta, a perfect 8-0-0 in Canada West conference play. Kelin Ainsworth, Andrew Wilkins and Jake Carrick, who completed a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Ainsworth and Mike Hammond, scored for the Wolves.
But a late giveaway by defenceman Nathan Bruyere – with LU on the power play nonetheless – opened the door for the always charging Golden Bears. Jamie Crooks capitalized on the freebie, beating McDonald with 0.3 seconds left in the period to close the gap to one.
Levko Koper, Alberta’s leading scorer, tied the game 20 seconds into the middle frame.
Still, the Thunderwolves didn’t let the setback get them down; at least not just yet.
Breaking loose, Trevor Gamache scored on a spectacular dipsy-doodle move on an Alberta defender at 3:38 of the second, the puck slowly rolling past goalie Kurtis Mucha, who fell for Gamache’s early deke, pushing LU back in front again.
Keith Grondin, on one-timer off a snazzy Ryan Magill feed, re-established the two-goal advantage, but though they held on until period’s end, the Wolves couldn’t stave off Alberta down the stretch.
"It was a good learning tool for us. I was really proud of the guys the way they came and focused and accepted the challenge. Hopefully we can do the same tomorow night, maybe change the score."
Claw marks: Lakehead rookie Cody Alcock left the game favouring his left leg, but returned for his next shift none the worse for the wear.
Scoring: 1. Alberta, Lazo (Rowley, Dyck) 6:25. 2. Lakehead, Ainsworth (Carrick, M. Quesnele) 9:43. 3. Lakehead, Wilkins (M. Quesnele, Gamache) 15:41. 4. Lakehead, Carrick (Ainsworth, Hammond) 16:33. 5. Alberta, Crooks (Ferguson) 19:59 sh. Penalties: Thompson LAK (interference) 4:41, Foster ALTA (cross checking) 18:05.
Scoring: 6. Alberta, Koper (Reddick, Carr) 0:20. 7. Lakehead, Gamache (Alcock, Fillman) 3:38. 8. Lakehead, Grondin (Magill, Bruyere) 15:32. Penalties: Barteaux ALTA (slashing) 11:56.
Scoring: 9. Alberta, Hickmott (Ferguson, Crooks) 0:59. 10. Alberta, Hickmott (Ferguson) 2:25. 11. Alberta, Rowley (Carr) 5:29. 12. Alberta, Hickmott (Koper) 19:41 en. Penalties: Hockmott ALTA (slashing), Quesnele LAK (cross checking) 15:13.
GAME DATA – SOG – Alberta 15-15-8-38, Lakehead 12-13-11-36; Power plays (goals-chances) – Alberta (1-1), Lakehead (0-1); Goaltenders – Alberta: Kurtis Mucha, Lakehead: Justin McDonald; A: 2,735.
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