THUNDER BAY – Goaltender Liam Oxner says the Halifax Macs see themselves as giant slayers at the TELUS Cup.
They lived up to their motto on Monday afternoon.
Oxner and the Macs withstood a barrage of first-period shots, rode a pair of goals from Josh Crooks, one coming in the opening minute of the second, the other in the opening minute of the third, and began the national midget hockey tournament with a 2-1 win over the favoured Toronto Young Nationals at Fort William Gardens.
The 18-year-old Oxner, who made 14 saves in the first, said it took the Macs a period or so to find their game, but once they did, the contest changed in a hurry.
“They came out strong and I think we were a little bit flat-footed, but we got going there in the second and turned it around real quick, and I had some big saves. It was all the boys needed to get going,” said Oxner, who turned aside 33 of 34 shots directed his way.
Starting out with a victory gives the Macs championship bid a huge boost, he added.
“Just having that first win under our belts makes it not as much pressure to be there on Saturday and Sunday and to get the job done,” Oxner said.
Opportunities were sparse in the first, Toronto’s Ryan Mansfield with the best chance to score, only to be stoned by Oxner on a breakaway late in the period.
Crooks changed the game’s momentum 59 seconds into the second, after Cameron Brown flipped the puck over the Young Nationals blueline, sending his teammate in alone on Toronto goaltender James Gray.
Crooks, a native of Dartmouth, N.S., faked one way, caught Gray going the other and deposited the puck between his pads and into the net.
“They were pretty good, but it was lucky for me I got a couple of goals to get us on the board,” Crooks said. “It was pretty awesome. I hadn’t scored in a while, so it felt good to get that monkey off my back.”
Toronto’s Elias Cohen evened the score late in the period, batting a puck out of the air that fluttered behind Oxner – the on-ice officials huddling before determining it wasn’t knocked in with a high stick.
Crooks was at it again 32 seconds into the final frame, lifting a high shot past Gray for the game-winner.
Halifax coach Tim Boyce said he’ll take goals from anywhere he can get them this week.
“We’ve been scoring by committee all year. We play a boring style of hockey and try to capitalize on turnovers and get some timely scoring and we did it again today,” Boyce said.
He said he wasn’t surprised it took his club a little while to get going.
“We’ve got seven first-years on our team this year, so I think they might have been a little bit overwhelmed at the whole experience. Liam Oxner was incredible in the first period. We could have easily been down 3-0 in the first period if it wasn’t for him.”
The Macs had several chances of their own to add to their lead in the second. Liam Walsh couldn’t convert on a 2-on-1 with Ian Watt and Davis Cooper was stoned by Gray on a full-fledged breakaway a few minutes later.
Halifax takes on the Felix Potvin-coached Magog Cantonniers on Tuesday, while Toronto will try to rebound against the Calgary Buffaloes.
Magog 6, Tisdale 0: Tristan Roy had a goal and two assists and Justin Robidas, son of former NHLer Stephane Robidas, scored once and added a helper to lead the Quebec representatives to a win over the West Regional champion Trojans. Oivier Adam made 31 saves to earn the shutout for the Cantonniers.
Scoring: None. Penalties: Kline HFX (hooking) 7:11, Hardie HFX (cross checking) 11:00, Carruthers HFX (hit to head) 14:40.
Scoring: 1. Halifax, Crooks 1 (Brown) 0:59. 2. Toronto, Cohen 1 (Stojcevski, Eliopulos) 18:38. Penalties: Currie TOR (slashing) 7:31, Del Mastro TOR (double minor, hit to head) 13:48.
Scoring: 3. Halifax, Crooks 2 (Carruthers, McLeod) 0:32. Penalties: Eliopulos TOR (hit to head, double minor) 4:18, Eliopulos TOR (interference) 10:44.
GAME DATA – SOG – Toronto 14-12-8-34, Halifax 3-14-8-25; Power plays (goals-chances) – Toronto (0-3), Halifax (0-6); Goaltenders – Toronto: James Gray, Halifax: Liam Oxner; A: 250 (estimated).