They don’t get much tighter than this.
But these are just the type of games the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey squad has to prove it can win.
Mitch Fillman’s rocket from the point, deflected on the way to the net with seven minutes to go in the first, proved to be the winner Friday night as the Wolves opened the second half on a winning note, edging the Toronto Varsity Blues 3-1 at Fort William Gardens.
It was enough to vault the home side into to spot in the OUA West, the No. 7 Wolves continuing their surprising first-half play and improving to 12-3-0.
Captain Andrew Wilkins, who pounced on a strange bounce off the end glass that caught Toronto goalie Brett Willows out of position, had Lakehead’s otherfirst-period goal. Carson Dubchak iced it in the final minute of the third, firing a puck three-quarters the length of the ice into the empty net.
Tyler von Engelbrechten replied with the Varsity Blues lone tally, shoving the puck past Jeff Bosch after a Nathan Bruyere giveaway deep in the Lakehead zone.
It’s important to win the tight ones, LU coach Bill McDonald said.
“You hit the nail right on the head there,” he said. “These are the type of games that we’re going to have to win. We got a break on the first goal … and Wilkie put it in to give us a little bit of momentum.”
Dubchak, whose goal was his first of the season, after sitting out most of the first half with a knee injury that appeared to be season-ending at the time, said the second-half schedule means the Wolves have to play consistent hockey for 60 minutes.
“We know we’ve got a tough schedule coming up, so if we take a night off, that’s going to hurt us. It’s just consistency throughout the next 14 games we’ve got left. We’ve just got to keep doing that and keep rolling every time we play,” Dubchak said.
It wasn’t a perfect game-plan execution.
The Varsity Blues out-shot and out-chanced the Wolves in the second, but failed to find a way to push the puck past Bosch.
“Sure we made some mistakes, but we had great goaltending. Bosch stood on his head and made some great saves for us,” Dubchak said. “That goes a long way. It gets the bench up. I felt we just had consistency throughout every line.”
It’s the finish that had McDonald jumping for joy.
“In all honesty, I thought we played a real gritty third period,” he said.
“It’s so huge. The talk around the room, the talk around everywhere is that it’s going to be a lot tougher in the second half, and it is.
Once it gets in your mind and you start losing, it just kind of snowballs. But we’ve nipped that in the bud already and hopefully we can have another good effort like we had in the third period tonight.”
Lakehead out-shot Toronto 27-26 and upped its record against the Varsity Blues all-time to 11-2-2.
Claw marks: Former Lakehead coach Mike Busniuk is no longer coaching in Italy. He went overseas after losing out on the full-time coaching position last summer, but sources say a disagreement with management led to his ouster in Italy.
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