With overtime looming and looking inevitable, Ryan Magill ensured the Lakehead Thunderwolves work was finished on time.
The senior forward potted the game-winner with 23.1 seconds remaining in regulation as No. 9 Lakehead downed the Ryerson Rams 4-3 in a battle of the top two teams in the OUA West division at the Fort William Gardens on Friday night.
Facing a deadlocked game with a minute to play, Magill and his linemates were sent on the ice with the purpose of winning a defensive zone faceoff to help keep the puck out of their own net.
“In that situation you’re not looking to score. It’s defensive zone first,” Magill said.
“Credit to the whole line. We all played well and grinded it out and were lucky to get a good bounce off the pads. It was a wide open net for me.”
That goal capped off an electric and offensive contest where Lakehead and No. 8 Ryerson peppered both goaltenders with a combined 94 shots.
The Rams, a team Lakehead bench boss Bill McDonald labelled as “ultra-aggressive,” entered the matchup as the top scoring team in the entire OUA.
To compound matters even more, McDonald had the choice of starting netminder taken out of his hands. With Jeff Bosch out of commission due to a nasty bout of the flu, rookie goalie Justin McDonald was forced into action.
The first-year keeper delivered, stopping 38 shots and improving his regular season record to 10-2.
“I thought McDonald played unreal. He made some really big saves when he had to,” said the Thunderwolves coach.
“You put him in and he plays and he wins, he plays and he wins. The guys get confidence in front of him and nothing phases the kid. He’s very focused, his work ethic is unreal and he just keeps going.”
With the win, Lakehead (14-4-1) retakes sole possession of the top slot as the Rams fall into a tie with Western just one point back.
Lakehead gave the home crowd of just more than 3,000 a reason to cheer early when captain Andrew Wilkins opened the scoring in the first half of the opening period. Pressure from Wilkins and linemates Cody Alcock and Keith Grondin left Wilkins with a loose puck on a goalmouth scramble that he finished.
The Rams evened the contest three minutes later as Victor Terreri capitalized on a two-on-one situation created by Domenic Alberga.
The ice did not have an opportunity to finish after the intermission flooding when rearguard Luke Maw restored the Lakehead lead as the trailing man when he scored on a long rebound off the pad of Rams goalie Troy Passingham.
The lead was doubled when the Thunderwolves prolific penalty killing unit struck. Kelin Ainsworth scored his sixth of the season off a play by Mike Hammond.
For Lakehead, it was their seventh shorthanded marker of the campaign.
“It’s a pretty basic system and when they get some chances they’re pretty smart and they can make them count,” McDonald said. “I think it’s their anticipation of what’s going to happen.”
Ryerson cut back into the lead over the rest of the second and opening stages of the third. The Rams got one back in the middle frame on an innocent looking play as McDonald was unable to squeeze the puck and Lucas Froese poked it across the line.
Both sides buzzed throughout the third as Lakehead tried to desperately cling to the one goal advantage.
The Rams had a golden opportunity late as Terrari got sprung on a breakaway but McDonald was able to get his shoulder on the puck and direct it aside.
The lead finally came down with five minutes to play as Rams captain Andrew Buck brought the game back to level.
Magill ended it as he was left all alone on the doorstep to bury the rebound.
Ryerson goalie Troy Passingham took the loss despite turning aside 49 shots as Lakehead outshot the Rams by a 53-41 margin.
Claw marks: Wolves forward Jake Carrick left the game in the start of the third period after taking a slash and did not return...Lakehead improves to 9-0 all-time against Ryerson...Wilkins was the first star, McDonald was the second and Passingham was named the third...The two teams will face off in a rematch on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort William Gardens.
Scoring: 1. Lakehead, Wilkins 6 (Alcock, Grondin) 8:31; 2. Ryerson, Terreri 5 (Alberga, Fine) 11:44. Penalties: McDonough RYE (holding) 9:12.
Scoring: 3. Lakehead, Maw 3 (Grondin) 1:59. 4. Lakehead, Ainsworth 6 (Hammond) 6:42 sh. 5. Ryerson, Froese 5 (Birkhoff) 12:00. Penalties: Menard LAK (tripping) 2:51; Menard LAK (tripping) 5:32; Terreri RYE (cross-checking) 7:43; Alberga RYE (slashing) 8:39; Froese RYE (slashing) 13:18.
Scoring: 6. Ryerson, Buck 5 (McDonough) 14:58. 7. Lakehead, Magill 4 (M. Quesnele, Wilkins) 19.37 Penalties: DeLory LAK (check to the head, misconduct) 2:23; Bench minor LAK (too many men, served by D. Quesnele) 7:46.
GAME DATA - SOG - Ryerson 14-9-18-41 Lakehead 20-18-25-53; Power plays (goals-chances) - Ryerson (0-4), Lakehead (0-4); Goaltenders - Ryerson: Troy Passingham (53 shots, 49 saves), Lakehead: Justin McDonald (41 shots, 38 saves). Attendance: 3,143.
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